US Business in Ireland: PepsiCo thrives — and gives back

Cliona Murphy

Interview: John Daly

Operating in more than 200 markets, with annual revenues of approximately $63 billion and 22 brands that generate more than $1 billion in retail sales, PepsiCo is a leader in the global food and beverage industry by any measure. Across Ireland, the US company is best known for brands such as Pepsi Max, 7Up, Walker’s, Tropicana and Naked Juice, but Irish consumers may be surprised to learn that the company’s operations in Ireland play a key role across its global operations.

PepsiCo estimates that one billion servings of its products are enjoyed by consumers around the world every day and many of those products have a connection to Cork.

The region is home to about 700 PepsiCo team members who are part of the manufacturing of concentrates and flavours for PepsiCo brands and a Research and Development (R&D) team that includes product and packaging developers, and quality and regulatory personnel with a special focus on dairy, beverages, fruits and vegetables.

Cork R&D is also home to the Quality College of PepsiCo University, an in-house training program that is required learning for PepsiCo food safety and quality personnel around the world.

PepsiCo has been in Cork for more than 40 years, opening its first manufacturing plant in Little Island in 1974 before expanding to add a second plant in Carrigaline in 2003, followed by a business service support centre.

By 2007, PepsiCo started locating R&D personnel at Little Island and five years later opened its R&D Centre there. The Centre is now PepsiCo’s second largest outside of the United States, thanks to a recent expansion that houses the Fruit & Vegetable R&D team, which supports PepsiCo’s Western European business.

The Cork R&D Centre is led by Cliona Murphy, a native of County Louth, who returned to Ireland in 2014 following a seven-year stint with PepsiCo in Asia. Cliona is now vice president, R&D for PepsiCo’s global nutrition brands, which include Quaker Oats, Tropicana and Naked Juice.

“R&D is at the heart of PepsiCo and we are proud of our achievements in Cork,” says Ms Murphy. “The R&D Centre in Cork specialises in product and packaging development, processing technology and analytical science. Cork has been an ideal location to attract and develop the talent that we need to sustain this work.”

Murphy points to the proximity of world-class universities and government agencies that support innovation and the co-location of suppliers and industry peers as factors that create what she calls an “innovation ecosystem” that supports the cross-fertilisation of ideas and acceleration of innovation.

A focus on growing its nutrition brands and improving the nutrition profile of its products is a core tenet of PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose initiative, which aims to make positive change in the food and beverage supply chain. The company has set goals to significantly reduce sugar, sodium and saturated fat across its portfolio and accelerate the growth of its nutrition business.

Murphy says that Cork is at the centre of that work, not only with its increased focus on fruit and vegetable products, but also in leading sugar reduction work for both the beverage and foods side of the business.

Inspiring future talent Recognising the culture of food and beverage innovation that Ireland fosters, PepsiCo has sought an active role in promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.

The innovative PepsiCo STEM Council is focused, not only on attracting and developing talent for the company, but also inspiring students — particularly girls — to pursue STEM education and careers.

As part of a personal commitment to mentoring and leadership, Murphy has ensured PepsiCo actively participates in and sponsors I WISH, a growing movement which is dedicated to cultivating STEM skills among women in Ireland.

Through its participation in I WISH and other secondary school programs in 2018, Murphy expects that the PepsiCo Ireland team will engage with more than 10,000 students, educating them on the ways in which STEM disciplines are applied in the food and beverage business.

She is also excited about the upcoming launch of Million Women Mentors with University College Cork which will see PepsiCo associates mentor a number of STEM students with the aim of increasing their skills to access the world of work.

“As STEM professionals, I believe we need to do more to raise awareness of the wide range of jobs that are open to STEM talent,” says Murphy.

“People, young and old, tend not to grasp how much science informs their lives. From my own experience in the food and beverage business, I know that many people underestimate the role of STEM in feeding the world.

“From agriculture to food science to manufacturing, supply chain and distribution, science and technology drives innovation, efficiency and sustainability at every step of this business.”

The result, says Murphy is not only better for PepsiCo and other employers, but in a broader sense, STEM itself is strengthened when talented people extend their roots into these disciplines.

“As I talk to students about STEM careers, there’s a recurring misconception that engineering equals men in hard hats, and everything else about science is confined to a lab coat and a microscope.

“But if you take just the team PepsiCo has here in Cork, it’s obvious that there is so much more.

“We’ve benefited from being part of a strong community of STEM talent here in Ireland and we want to give back to that community.”

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