“This industry-leading Greenhouse Learning Center will fast track the process to field test, measure, and analyze compostable packaging, as we work to make the goal [of] ultimately building a circular positive value chain,” Denise Lefebvre, senior VP of R&D for PepsiCo, told FoodNavigator-USA.
Faster packaging innovation through colocation
The greenhouse features two areas: one focused on compost and one on soil, Lefebvre said.
The compostable area includes bins with a viewable opening that allow the R&D team to "better understand the disintegration speed of a material," she said. In the soil area, PepsiCo can also mix the compost with the soil to grow plants, Lefebvre said. The R&D team can "test the soil [in] real-time with plants and nutrition to understand the full lifecycle of a circular economy," she added.
The greenhouse is next to a PepsiCo R&D center and prototyping lab, where the company is creating its sustainable and compostable packaging, Lefebvre said. “By just proximity, you increase the speed of innovation from a colocation standpoint,” she added.
In addition to speeding up the sustainable innovation testing process, PepsiCo will also not have to rely as much on third-party labs to do this packaging testing, Lefebvre said. Some of the trials could “take from months to a year,” and PepsiCo can do packaging tests faster with a dedicated facility, she added.
Delivering on the second pillar of the pep+ framework
The opening of the greenhouse comes as PepsiCo is progressing toward several of its goals within its pep+ framework.
Last month, PepsiCo also announced a $216m investment to support regenerative agriculture, which goes to its first pep+ pillar. And this announcement will go towards its second pillar of lowering emissions, becoming net water positive, and cutting virgin plastic from its packaging.
"As part of PepsiCo Positive, we're aiming to have ... 100% of our packaging to be recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable or reusable by 2025,” Lefebvre said. “Our vision is to be a world where packaging does not become waste.”
Educating the total value chain in sustainable packaging
While the key purpose of the greenhouse is to speed up packaging innovation, PepsiCo also hopes to use the greenhouse to educate and facilitate conversations among consumers and other stakeholders in the industry about the need for sustainability practices.
“We thought not only does it help us speed our testing, which is by far the dominant reason, but we actually are building it's got some education element to it as well. And so, what a way to bring the industry together, talk and see real-time to get their perspectives ... because we want to change the industry.”
Not only is Lefebvre and her team working to find new sustainable packaging types, but she is also doing consumer testing to see how receptive they are to these new packaging and finding ways to bring them into the “circular value chain,” including working with municipalities and partners to find these solutions.
“We want [consumers] to encourage them to bring their packaging back in a way that makes it fully circular economy, so us educating them and talking to them and understanding what resonates is really important in this whole circular value chain, but equally it's a total chain - it's not PepsiCo alone.”