Shaking Up Big Brands: Meet a Scientist Who Is Accelerating Our Path to More Sustainable Packaging

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Our brands are iconic. But we’re not content to stop there and hit the repeat button. See how Sri Narayan-Sarathy is helping us create more sustainable packaging.

At PepsiCo, innovation is more than a buzzword. Every day, our creativity and drive dare us to implement new ideas and ways of working. And our actions have real-world impact: Our brands are probably in your pantry now. The products in our portfolio, which include Pepsi, Lay’s, Gatorade, Doritos and more, are enjoyed more than 1 billion times a day.

PepsiCo associates — whether frontline representatives in stores to R&D employees around the world — have the freedom to take risks; learn; and uncover great ideas and new ways of working.

Here, associate Sri Narayan–Sarathy, Technical Director of Sustainable Packaging and PepsiCo R&D Senior Fellow, shares how PepsiCo allows leaders at all levels to innovate and define the future of its iconic brands.

Sri Narayan-Sarathy
Technical Director of Sustainable Packaging
Plano, TX, USA

Which of PepsiCo’s brands stand out to you?

All our brands are iconic. They’ve just been around for so long, right? People around the world feel joy when they sip and savor our brands. They’re just very well recognized. People love them for the taste, quality and what they stand for. Think of Stacy’s Pita Chips: It is a woman-founded brand that you can trust, with a clear mission and vision.

What does PepsiCo’s reputation mean to you?

Working at a company with such a great history and exciting future is energizing and fun. All of us have access to such incredible brands that really resonate with people. Simple, tactile experiences — like picking up a bag of Lay’s or opening a can of Pepsi — have meaning. People can recall times they’ve connected and laughed with family members and friends while enjoying our products. We dare to envision ways to make people happy through unforgettable experiences. Our brands are integral to that.

All our brands
are iconic.

Do you view PepsiCo as an innovation leader?

PepsiCo recruited me 13 years ago to join PepsiCo Advanced Research. I immediately got involved with innovative projects. My first one was learning how to convert orange peels into pectin and gas. My most significant project is developing bio-based, compostable packaging. Our innovations have helped develop and evolve the biopolymer industry. Here’s what that means in layman’s terms: We’re helping scale up commercially viable packaging that is more sustainable — among many other things. So yes, PepsiCo is an innovation leader!

Can you describe hurdles of creating such packaging?

Packaging is mostly there to protect the products within and performance is king. You must balance the importance of sustainability, and whether consumers will use packaging that looks or sounds different from a regular bag of chips. There is so much innovation required — using completely new materials, uncovering new supply chains, engineering resources and defining strategic goals.

PepsiCo is an
innovation leader!

Ultimately, what are the goals for reimagining packaging?

Think of it this way: We have an opportunity to create packaging from plant-based materials that create less greenhouse gas emissions when they are produced than traditional packaging. The goal is creating a world where packaging need never become waste. This will help create a circular economy and help reduce packaging waste . It’s also what consumers want. Even a few years ago, we noticed consumers didn’t like the sound of packaging even though it was made of more sustainable materials. Now, there’s more awareness about the need for it.

How does that look now compared to when you first started?

We’re looking at ways to evolve it even more. For example, we’re exploring paper-based packaging. This is even more challenging from a performance point of view. Think about it: We’re packaging dry goods. They need to stay dry and stable to get to shelves in stores for consumers to enjoy. Paper is very porous and moisture sensitive. So, we have to innovate, ask questions and find answers: What coatings are needed? How do we increase barrier protection?

How are scientists and technologists empowered at PepsiCo?

Life at PepsiCo is full of possibilities. Again, I’m a polymer scientist by trade. I’ve been able to develop sustainable alternatives and flexible packaging. I also have the honor of being one of the senior R&D Fellows. This is a program where top scientists in the company are recognized. It empowers us to identify opportunities for new technology and innovation. Programs like these allow us to educate, connect and inspire those around us. We’re also able to work on research projects outside of our day-to-day responsibilities.

The goal is creating a world where packaging need never become waste.

How do you Dare for Better?

I’ve been part of science and technology discovery groups for a long time. Ninety percent of things that we try don’t really work at all. That means there’s a lot of risk. But even in those “failures,” we know that they can lead to something big and transformative. I’m daring for better and taking risks all the time as a scientist and senior fellow. And PepsiCo empowers me to do so.

Learn more about how we Dare for Better at PepsiCo.