Fareed Zakaria of CNN interviewed Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico on his Sunday GPS show. Zakaria asked Nooyi to respond to her reputation as the world’s most powerful woman. She seemed embarrassed by the title, but remarked that she works very hard, often sacrificing precious family time. The interview moved along fairly tamely until it came to the question of healthy food and the growing American problem of obesity. As you may know, Pepsico is a snack food conglomerate. Their products include Pepsi, Gatorade and other sugary drinks and Frito Lay, known for salty chips. She was not at all apologetic and gave what I thought to be an incredibly silly but revealing answer which to me was a tacit admission that Pepsico is more concerned with profit, than juvenile diabetes or clogged arteries. She characterized Pepsico’s products as “20% good for you and 80% fun for you”. Said another way, what’s good for you is not fun for you, and what’s fun for you may not be good for your health. It sounded like a clever marketing pitch to skirt the question, but it does show that Pepsico is 80% about profit. Once the 20% becomes more profitable, things will change, but this is likely to take a long time.
30 years ago, I heard Ralph Nader speak at the University of Arkansas. He described a hot dog as a pink missile and railed against snack food, suggesting that the vending machines could be stocked with healthier food. Fast forward to 2011, and not much has changed. The majority of stuff I see in the snack aisles at the supermarket and in vending machines are sugary drinks, candy bars and salty chips. Just the other day I was delighted to see a bag of sunflower seeds in the vending machine where I work. I was disappointed to learn that the seed shells were coated in a powdery salt. I guess seeds qualify as “good”, and with all the salt also “fun”. But those seeds were unsafe at any speed and not even fit for the birds, who seem, by and large, more fit than an average American.