Jenny Danzi has been with PepsiCo since 2009, becoming senior director of PBNA’s ‘future brands’ unit earlier this year

Just Drinks: What does the senior director of future brands do?

Jenny Danzi, senior director of ‘future brands’ PepsiCo Beverages North America: I get to create new brands in emerging categories, then figure out how to scale them within our larger distribution system.

JD: How much of that is driven by the consumer?

Jenny Danzi: From an innovation perspective, everything we do at PBNA is driven by the consumer. We have great insight tools that can look at what they’re talking about online, what they’re buying in stores, what they’re buying in other categories. Our team pulls out the opportunities from these, to make sure we’re addressing unmet consumer needs that the rest of our portfolio can’t immediately address.

JD: Considering the scale of PepsiCo’s beverage portfolio, those opportunities must be few and far between. How do you identify a segment of soft drinks that PepsiCo isn’t in?

Jenny Danzi: Innovation within beverages is continuing to accelerate. That’s particularly true within the functional space; consumers are expecting more from what they eat and drink. Our team can partner closely with R&D and our scientific experts to identify new ingredients that might have new functions. Then, we can bring those to market in a way that tastes great.

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Brands like Soulboost (a functional sparkling water launched in the US last year) are built on functional ingredients like L-theanine, which is clinically proven to help you relax, but we can put it in a beautiful package and it tastes amazing.

That’s the kind of opportunity we see in the future brands unit, to test something new that hopefully graduates to the broader PepsiCo distribution system.

JD: How much of your research into new areas is driven by start-up companies bringing a new idea to market that wasn’t there before?

Jenny Danzi: We’re lucky that we have a lot of entrepreneurial employees in our innovation team. Driftwell, our relaxing evening beverage, was born out of our internal ‘Next Big Idea’ contest – it came from a group of employees in Canada, who saw an opportunity. That was a fresh take on a human need meeting the beverage space.

We certainly watch the market: There’s a lot of people going after new opportunities, but we bring strong scientific expertise.

JD: What’s ‘Next Big Idea’?

Jenny Danzi: It’s a relatively new, internal contest, implemented by our CEO, Ramon Laguarta, where groups of employees across the globe can pitch what they think the next big idea should be for the business – whether that’s a new product we should launch or a new way of doing things. It happens once a year and they’re judged by a panel of executives. The winners get funding to make their idea a reality.

JD: Which PepsiCo division or market is ‘top of the pops’ in the contest?

Jenny Danzi: It depends on what the consumer need is. There are things that will be right for an Asian market or right for a European market. In PBNA, we’ve got the geographical and population diversity to develop a brand that can resonate with the group.

It’s not just about launching a new product, it’s about building the capabilities of how we incubate and scale the right opportunities.

JD: We’re seeing a lot of NPD in soft drinks that targets mental wellbeing. Is that an indication of the speed at which the science has accelerated, or are you just seeing consumers yawn more?

Jenny Danzi: It’s both. We now know things as facts that we didn’t know before. At the same time, consumers also continue to want more – they’re optimising everything in their lives. What they eat and drink needs to help them fuel that cycle.

JD: How does a company the size of PepsiCo move at the same speed as smaller players coming into the market?

Jenny Danzi: We’ve loved the challenge of accelerating innovation within the PepsiCo system. Driftwell, for example, was launched in about ten months.

Some of it is knowing the rules and knowing which ones you can break, some of it is ring-fencing the resources and operating in sprints. It’s safer to test things if you’re doing it on a smaller scale – we’re not going to bet the whole farm on something new. The future brands division is there to test, learn, pivot and figure out which opportunities have the chance to scale. Then, we can place our bets on those.

JD: Which of those bets have brought you the house?

Jenny Danzi: We’re really bullish on Soulboost – We’ve had a lot of interest from large retailers and we’re looking forward to scaling that through 2022 and ‘23.

Our premium mixer, Unmuddled (launched last summer), has also outperformed our benchmarks, so we’re looking for opportunities to scale that as well.

Everything we do needs to build this scaling and incubation muscle. In the last two years, we’ve proved we know how to launch something – the challenge now is to continue to grow it to earn a spot in our DSD (direct-store-delivery) system.

JD: What’s the definition of having ‘arrived’ for PepsiCo?

Jenny Danzi: We have to right-size the resources to the current business, while keeping an eye on what those graduation gates are that will help it scale further. Launching e-commerce first was a new muscle for us when we launched Driftwell. Now we’ve done that, we understand what we need to track – things like strengths of reviews and return on ad spend.

When something’s doing well, we can then take it to a retailer to test. Then, the question is when to graduate from a warehouse system or third-party distributor into the PepsiCo bottling system.

JD: What consumer resistance is there to a new product coming from a full-sugar soft drinks manufacturer the size of PepsiCo?

Jenny Danzi: I don’t know that we’ve seen any resistance from the consumer. I think they’re actually excited to have our good taste and distribution muscle behind these areas that they’re interested in.

Consumers are looking for more options and for more function. If we can put that within arm’s reach, I think that’s a benefit to them.

JD: What are you working on that’s going to be the next big thing next year?

Jenny Danzi: We have a lot of fun things in the works. We’re spending a lot of time with Gen Z consumers, we’re spending a lot of time in the metaverse, we’re spending a lot of time in our R&D labs. We’re enjoying all the fresh inspiration out there as the world opens up again!

JD: Are you able to explain what the metaverse is yet?

Jenny Danzi: We do have an internal working definition!

We’re also trying to crack what the potential of ‘Web 3.0’ can mean for PepsiCo and how we engage with consumers.

JD: Is there an age when the consumer is too old for you to consider them trying something new?

Jenny Danzi: No. If anything, I’m passionate about figuring out the right products for people as they age. That’s a demographic with huge buying power and changing needs. I’m not sure we’re seeing a lot of brands that serve them in a way that feels aspirational and relevant.

It’s definitely something worth thinking about: How do you appeal all the way from 18 to 100?

Jenny will be presenting at Just Drink’s ‘Low- & No- 2022’ online conference on 27 April. For full details and to register – attendance is free for beverage brand owners – click here.