Less than two months ago PepsiCo hyped a new soft drink product, Pepsi True, as an alternative to the high fructose corn syrupy sweet and artificially sweetened zero-calorie options the company has long pitched to consumers. This new drink, sweetened with stevia root, promised to be “a new kind of cola that is almost too good to be true” and was rolled out for sale exclusively on Amazon.
Unfortunately for PepsiCo, there has been a slight hiccup. Many activists, upset over what they see as the company’s less than robust sustainable palm oil policy, are not cutting Pepsi True any slack, and are mercilessly heckling PepsiTrue with bad reviews. According to Sustainable Brands, the ringleaders are SumOfUs.org and Rainforest Action Network. Last week the outcry on Amazon was so loud PepsiCo pulled the product from Amazon, then reinstated it, only to have complaints still flying in.
“Let's push Pepsi to buy palm oil from sustainable sources!”
“This truly is a terrible product from a truly terrible 'rainforest destroying' company”
“PepsiCo can’t prove that its palm oil supply chain is 100% deforestation free and right now it has no plans to change that.”
Not quite the “I really liked the taste of this drink, have lost weight from the switch, but if only the can were a slightly different shade of green” review the beverage giant was counting on, was it?
According to Rainforest Action Network, PepsiCo has been one of the slowest multinationals to adopt a more sustainable palm oil policy. While other companies including Unilever, Cargill, Dunkin Donuts and ConAgra have been making changes within their supply chains, RAN claims PepsiCo has been dragging its feet. Conventional palm oil, or what RAN and its peer organizations now call “conflict palm oil,” has been responsible for environmental destruction, the abuse of land rights and child labor. And with PepsiCo’s consumption of over 450,000 metric tons of palm oil annually to make Cheetos, Stacy’s Limited Edition Salted Caramel Pita Chips and Tostito’s, the company is a huge procurer of palm oil.
RAN and its allies, however, have lashed out at PepsiCo for its lack of a sustainable palm oil policy and for not acknowledging any damage its supply chain has caused in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. In turn PepsiCo announced a revamped palm oil policy to take place by 2016, but the company’s critics claim the changes do not go far enough. The NGO SumOfUs.org is among the organizations dismissive of PepsiCo’s tactics, describing the commitment as “weak, especially on slavery, enforcement, and a plan for implementation.” Meanwhile PepsiCo has reacted in kind, claiming the outcry an "orchestrated effort" to misinform consumers.
PepsiCo, meanwhile, has been stubborn in its insistence that its policy is strong enough, and has reacted to the review sabotage on Amazon with an aggressive public relations campaign. Clearly, any of us who have earned a one-star review would react with consternation, so imagine the teeth grating at PepsiCo headquarters with 3,900 negative reviews rolling in over the weekend. But with companies including Nestle, Mars and P&G among the other global firms committing to sustainable palm oil, PepsiCo’s tepid policy is making it stand out for the wrong reasons. Its competitors are committing to plans that include transparency, tractability and full safeguards for human rights.
PepsiCo’s reputation, especially as consumers become more aware of the dangers of palm oil, would be quickly repaired with a more watertight policy instead of continuing its war of words.
Leon Kaye is based in California and most recently worked for a renewable energy investment company in the Middle East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.
Image credit: SumOfUs.org
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.