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PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi warns of aspartame fears, rebuffs leadership speculation

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PepsiCo's CEO has explained her company's decision to return aspartame to the Diet Pepsi portfolio, but admitted consumer "trepidation" around the artificial sweetener remains.

Indra Nooyi celebrates a decade at PepsiCos helm in October

Indra Nooyi celebrates a decade at PepsiCo's helm in October

Indra Nooyi, who also confirmed her intention to stay on as PepsiCo head for the "next several years", told analysts yesterday that the company faced a consumer backlash last year when it replaced aspartame in Diet Pepsi. "People get incredibly fastidious about their products and don't want to have any changes," Nooyi said.

Last month, however, PepsiCo announced it will launch Diet Pepsi Classic Sweetener Blend, which is sweetened with aspartame and Ace-K, a year after removing aspartame from the Diet Pepsi formula. The company will continue to sell the aspartame-free Diet Pepsi as its main diet cola offering.

Nooyi said the expanded portfolio gives consumers more choice, but added that health fears over aspartame, which triggered the initial sweetener switch, have not gone away.

"If you go and poll consumers today and read all the social media reports, there's still trepidation about aspartame," she said. "There's no scientific reason for that, but people are somehow worried about aspartame."

Meanwhile, Nooyi assured the market that ongoing speculation over her job at PepsiCo was unfounded. "In the foreseeable future, [the] next several years, I see myself running PepsiCo," Nooyi said after yesterday's first-half results release. 

Nooyi, who will celebrate a decade at PepsiCo's helm this October, has survived previous talk over possible successors. In March, an analyst suggested Al Carey was in line for the post after he was promoted from CEO of North America Beverages to head up PepsiCo's total North America operations.

In H1 results yesterday, PepsiCo's global beverage volumes lifted by 2%.

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