Accelerating changes, big and small

(Image: PepsiCo)

The first step of any journey is often the hardest, and the quest towards greater sustainability is no exception. Nevertheless, as Agatha Wong finds out, players in the industry – regardless of their size – can make a difference.

PepsiCo has announced the launch of its second Greenhouse Accelerator programme in APAC. The programme, which aims to invest in start-ups working to advance the circular economy, sustainable agriculture, and climate action, will feature a one-on-one mentorship programme.

Entrepreneurs will garner access to PepsiCo executives and subject-matter experts, allowing them to overcome challenges in various stages and elements of their business. From product development to marketing and distribution, finalists will work with their mentors to strengthen their FMCG capabilities. The start-ups will also participate in a pilot-oriented business optimisation and capability development programme; finalists will engage in pilot exploration with PepsiCo and its partners, with potential collaborations targeting circular economy, climate action, and sustainable agriculture challenges.

At the end of the programme in Sep 2024, shortlisted applicants will receive US$20,000 in grants and mentoring from PepsiCo’s subject-matter experts, while the winning participant will a grant of US$100,000. All finalists will also have the opportunity to continue partnerships with PepsiCo and its partners thereafter.

Ashley Brown, vice-president of supply chain ANZ and chief sustainability officer, PepsiCo APAC, said: “Guiding us is our vision at PepsiCo, to ‘Be the Global Leader in Beverages and Convenient Foods by Winning with pep+ (PepsiCo Positive)’. pep+ is our roadmap to playing a leading role in transforming the global food system. This includes operating within planetary boundaries in how we source our ingredients and producing and selling our products sustainably. Through these efforts, we aim to inspire more individuals and entities, beyond our various stakeholders, to do the same. The GHAC, where we extend our voice to start-ups in the sustainability space, is a key element to this.

“Collectively, the global GHAC program is in its 8th year and has seen 86 emerging start-up brands deliver an estimated combined sales growth of over US$20m in revenue. As part of our sustainability vision at PepsiCo, we are committed to open innovation and collaborating with the changemakers of the future to help lead the transformation. This includes achieving net-zero by 2040 and building a world where packaging never becomes a waste.”

APAC currently stands at a critical juncture with regard to sustainability, being one of the regions to be most affected by climate change. Already, the region – comprised of mostly developing economies – has been impacted by threats to its agricultural sector. And in a landscape where 80% of the countries are dependent on food products and exports, climate action will serve a crucial role in securing the future of the region’s food and beverage industry. To that end, food and beverage businesses and manufacturers have begun to realise their part in APAC’s sustainability journey, with many taking greener paths for a better tomorrow.

“As consumers in APAC become more informed and eco-conscious, they are actively seeking out food brands and products that are committed to sustainability across the value chain. As a result, food brands are increasingly adapting to consumer demands and food-tech in APAC has witnessed notable developments in recent years. One of these developments is the adoption of precision agriculture technologies and innovations in agriculture technology (agri-tech),” said Brown.

Yet, the journey toward sustainability is not always a smooth one; Brown noted that progress varies across countries within APAC, as many countries are at different stages of their economic development. Nevertheless, there is a generally positive trend in the region’s F&B industry in adopting sustainable practices that are driven by entrepreneurial innovation, among other factors.

“In particular, we see great potential in implementing waste reduction technologies, and we are currently exploring innovative solutions to minimise waste generation in our snack production facilities,” said Brown. These solutions include biomass technology, which converts waste into energy, and biogas facilities that transform the organic matter from wastewater into gas, subsequently converted into electricity. He also revealed that PepsiCo was investigating ways to utilise residual materials as fertilisers.

“Leveraging on both PepsiCo’s and participating start-ups’ expertise to address the circular economy, sustainable agriculture, and climate action, we are able to collaboratively work on innovative solutions in alignment with our pep+ strategy to generate real positive impact on our businesses, consumers, communities, and the environment. By addressing pressing issues in sustainability, including increasing GHG emissions, water consumption, and virgin plastic use, our program creates a chain of reactions that create a healthier environment for everyone.”

With that, start-ups in particular can serve as the perfect space for budding ideas tackling the most pressing challenges. And in regional aspects, they can also provide unique insights into what their food system requires, from regenerative agriculture to food security. The Greenhouse Accelerator programme is thus apt for generating value and positive change.

“Start-ups typically approach sustainability challenges with fresh perspectives, leading to the development of novel and impactful solutions. In APAC, start-ups have a focus on niche markets and specific sustainability issues within their unique food systems. This specialisation allows them to address targeted problems and create more effective and tailored solutions,” shared Brown.

At the same time, the role of established companies is not to be diminished. Brown elaborated that large corporations like PepsiCo have the resources and influence to make significant changes to practice sustainability. PepsiCo’s global agricultural footprint spans approximately seven million acres, he added.
“We engage with farmers worldwide to inform them about what needs to be done to restore the planet and make farming operations more profitable. Recognising our pivotal role in making a difference to progress toward a circular economy, we acknowledge the substantial work necessary to achieve our goals. A collaboration of efforts from both start-ups and established companies is, therefore, ideal and necessary to create a more sustainable and resilient food system.”

Indeed, the road towards a sustainable future is one that will require more than just a single player. In an industry as diverse as the food and beverage sector, companies big and small must play their part into safeguarding our food systems and future for generations to come. Combining the vibrant optimism of young start-ups with the experience and knowledge of companies such as PepsiCo will cultivate an ideal environment for the cross-pollination of ideas and solutions. Ultimately, these programmes will have a ripple effect on the supply chain, delivering wide-ranging impacts from farmers to consumers.

“By integrating sustainability into every aspect of the value and supply chain, our organisation remains steadfast in driving toward our 2030 commitments in APAC and beyond. These commitments encompass various aspects of our value chain, including agriculture, water, and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The key is to approach sustainability as a long-term commitment that involves collaboration with multiple stakeholders and continuous improvement efforts to ensure our actions serve their purpose. We will persistently work towards these targets, maintaining a solid commitment to our pep+ agenda and ensuring that our organisation contributes positively to the health of our consumers and the environment,” Brown concluded.