PepsiCo’s Khan Challenges Conventional R&D Wisdom
At the Beacon Lecture on Tuesday afternoon, Mehmood Khan, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, Global Nutrition Group, and Chief Scientific Officer of PepsiCo, discussed the global food landscape from food policies, obesity, and food production to waste, water usage, and population growth, and how the food industry and food science can solve present and future challenges.
“The food industry has saved more lives and helped humanity more than any other profession,” said Khan. But it is also under attack from several groups for things like water usage, pesticides, additives, and obesity, he noted. Food policies following World War II, when many young men joining the armed services were undernourished and underweight, encouraged the production of safe, affordable, and convenient food. “We did what society and the government wanted us to do,” stated Khan.
Today we have an imbalance in our food system with 1 billion hungry people and 1 billion overweight people on our planet, noted Kahn. “We added 1 billion people in the past 10 years and our population will rise from 7 billion to 9 and a half billion by 2050. We will have to increase our food production by 50% to meet the demand. Otherwise, mass starvation will lead to mass conflict between village to village, state to state, city to city, and country to country,” declared Khan.
Americans eat about 2.5 servings of fruits and vegetables today and the government recommends that we eat 4–5 servings, reported Khan. “We would have to increase our fruit and vegetable production equivalent to what the State of California produces today in order for Americans to eat the recommended amounts.”
In Africa, Asia, and India, about 40% of the food is lost through spoilage or the inability to preserve and transport it. In North America and Europe, about 40% of the food is thrown away. “If we could save half of the food that is thrown away, we could feed 1 billion more people without any more resources, such as land or water,” declared Khan.
Solving these problems will require a different way of thinking, stated Khan. For example, Khan located his engineering center in Delhi, India, so that they could gain a new perspective on these and other food issues. For example, in large cities in developing countries, the road infrastructure is poor and PepsiCo delivery trucks spend a large amount of time sitting idle in traffic jams, wasting fuel and energy. And this will only get worse. By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in cities. There will be 50 megacities of populations of 20 million or more and 49 of those cities will be in developing countries, noted Khan.
Khan referred to the traditional practice of bringing foreign scientists to the United States to learn about our way of doing things as “historical arrogance.” Young scientists in the U.S. need to go overseas to learn and understand the culture and problems and the resources available to overcome these challenges,” declared Khan. He pointed to an example of a six-minute Pepsi marketing video that was produced inexpensively in Shanghai that was seen by 750 million people in its first 100 days. “If it were produced here, it would have cost us a couple more zeros following the 750 number,” joked Khan.