2023 will be a year of 'hope and focus' for AI, says PepsiCo's transformation leader

2023 will be a year of ‘hope and focus’ for AI, says PepsiCo’s transformation leader

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When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), the past year has been ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful, says Athina Kanioura, who was named PepsiCo’s first chief strategy and transformation officer in September 2020. But she’s optimistic about 2023.

“Think about how we started with the metaverse and the use of AI, all of a sudden it fell apart,” she told VentureBeat. “In AI, we tend to see what doesn’t work the first time and then lose hope – but I think 2023 should be a year of hope and focus for AI.”

That includes PepsiCo, Kanioura said, which joined the third-largest consumer packaged goods (CPG) company — with familiar global brands such as Pepsi, Lay’s, Cheetos, Quaker and Gatorade — after a dozen years at the helm. of professional services firm Accenture. There, she most recently served as Director of Business Analytics and Global Head of Applied Intelligence, helping clients leverage AI at scale.

PepsiCo, she explained, is “extremely passionate” about AI and, when she joined, brought together statistical information, numerical data and AI under one roof to grow the business “exponentially” and “driving a different PepsiCo in the future”.


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It seems to be coming from above: Just a month ago, in remarks accompanying the company’s third-quarter 2022 financial results, PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta and Chief Financial Officer Hugh Johnston said the company was focused on “automating and digitizing our supply chain to support our innovation pipeline with greater agility and speed to market.”

Athina Kanioura, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, PepsiCo

Three key segments

AI at PepsiCo – from cognitive science and machine learning (ML) capabilities to data lakes and clouds – is organized into what Kanioura calls a “human framework” and divided into three key segments.

One is the use of AI to enhance the human experience and facilitate what is happening in the field. For example, PepsiCo uses AI monitoring for predictive asset maintenance, quality, and employee safety in factories, warehouses, and distribution centers.

“There are control towers, sensors in their devices, their machines, to prevent safety risks for our employees, for quality control and to avoid any damage to parts,” she explained. “Through these AI systems, we are protecting the well-being of employees and, secondly, we are giving them visibility into how they can do their jobs more efficiently. So there is a huge importance for us from the point of view of view of the supply chain and operations.”

PepsiCo is also using AI to accelerate business growth by identifying “white spaces” when thinking about new product categories, including analyzing consumer sentiment.

“With that kind of data, in less than a year, we’ve created Off The Eaten Path seaweed snacks, which are working well,” she said.

The AI ​​insights also showed consumers were interested in immunity, leading to Propel, with immunity-boosting ingredients, six months later.

“That’s how you can use AI to drive the next generation of products and growth,” she added.

Additionally, AI is used to boost sustainability.

“AI is integral to the future mission of the company, which is a positive outcome, a better planet, for our employees, for our children, for our communities,” she said.

For example, as one of the largest potato producers in the world (for brands like Frito-Lay), PepsiCo uses AI to provide farmers in North America, Latin America and from Europe more than a million key data points on the potatoes they plant and offer crop information – such as seed sowing depth based on weather conditions, how much water to water, how to protect the crop and how to optimize yields.

“It led to much more sustainable practices,” she said.

PepsiCo Farm Technology

Digital hubs are driving PepsiCo’s success

A year ago, PepsiCo established the company’s first two digital hubs in Barcelona, ​​Spain, and Dallas, Texas, and was expected to create more than 500 data and digital jobs over the next two years. , in order to “significantly influence the way the organization reinvents planning, manufacturing, moving, selling and delivering products.

At the time, PepsiCo said the hubs would help the company move toward a future vision of customers by allowing professionals to have real-time access to sales and inventory data, constant product availability at the right place, and employees could also use predictive decision support tools.

But no matter where AI is used in PepsiCo, Kanioura said all employees operate under the same responsible AI framework.

“We have a responsible AI framework that everyone adheres to, from how we design systems to how we enter data, process models, audit models during execution, and finally post-processing,” she said. “The principles apply to everyone on my team and we have a committee that makes sure this process is executed consistently across the organization.”

The future of AI at PepsiCo and beyond

Kanioura and other AI leaders at PepsiCo are actively working to provide industry perspective and recommendations to regulators, including the Congressional AI Caucus, NIST, she added.

“What ethical AI framework should be applied, what are the processes and prerequisites you need for a viable framework for an organization, what is the role of industry versus technology provider versus government” , she said. “I believe if you have different parties…sitting together, that will be an advantage in putting in place a regulatory framework.”

For PepsiCo, Kanioura emphasized that AI’s mission is to drive the next generation of growth for the company, but in the context of human experience.

“I think 2023 will be a year where I expect to see further consolidation, with much more focused investment in key areas of AI where it will benefit the masses and across industries, rather than capabilities futuristic,” she said. “I think the industry has realized that we need to do things that everyone can benefit from – you hear that in the discussion from many tech companies they say focus on the core of AI.”

Additionally, she said the future of AI at PepsiCo will be based on scalability and industrialization.

“Over many years, we did a lot of experiments, a lot of proof-of-concepts, because some areas of AI weren’t mature enough,” she said. “Now, if we think about AI for integrated business planning, we do it at scale. R&D will use it at scale.

It is important, she concluded, to take stock of what has been a difficult year overall and to rethink some AI strategies.

“In 2023, there is enormous hope for what AI can do for society,” she said. “We shouldn’t forget how during COVID-19 AI was used for precision medicine, and there’s huge hope for AI in precision agriculture, we’re using it – that’s incredible unlocking of what AI can do.”

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