Jan van Twillert

Vice President Marketing Foods Northern Europe
“If you stop getting the inspiration from outside, you stay in your bubble.”
Jan van Twillert, Vice President of Marketing, PepsiCo Northern Europe, talks about transforming into a more sustainable, healthier company, and how to sell this story to consumers.
PepsiCo is a house of brands. For which brands are you responsible?
‘I run the foods business. That includes snack brands such as Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos, and a new brand Popworks. We also start building a healthier future with Nutri-Score, a European label for our products, ranking a food’s nutritional quality from green (A) to red (E). I oversee the marketing function for all the categories for Benelux, Nordics and the DACH markets; Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.’
How big is the business you oversee percentage wise?
‘Globally we are, toward $90 billion for PepsiCo. In Northern Europe, we have roughly a $1.2 billion turnover. So, this is small on a global scale, but we have good markets here. In the Netherlands we are leaders in the category, and we have a high per capita consumption. It’s our pilot market when it comes to transitioning our system and learning new things about sustainability. If the model works for Europe, with its demanding consumers, we can export the thinking elsewhere.’

PepsiCo is becoming a healthier company, helping customers to make more conscious choices. How do combine this with selling more Lay’s chips?
‘It's a paradox, right? We are not in the business of selling less chips. We are in the business of making irresistibly tasting chips, as well as snacks beyond chips. Think about a world in which you would only eat yogurts, drink water or eat apples... I don't want to live there. Sometimes I’m having a good time with friends and family, and then I drink a beer, a wine, a Pepsi, and I eat a snack as well. That will continue to exist as long as humans are around on this planet. The question for us as a company is: how to make it permissible? As a global leader in this category, we are ahead of the game. We are innovating like crazy, spending a lot of money and R&D talent to find the irresistibly tasting chip, and making it permissible to get out of the Nutri-Score red zone. So, for drinks it's less sugar. For snacks it's less sodium and less fat. We want to move our iconic brands more into the B and the C space. And we also want to create new, healthier brands like Popworks.’
Your challenge is not only about nutritional value, it's also about sustainability, right?
‘Sustainability is key. There is no compromise there; no red or yellow zone, it has to be green. We need to make sure our way of living doesn't ruin the planet. We want to create value, and grow within the boundaries of the planet. So, we need end-to-end transformation throughout the value chain, starting with agriculture. We call this the PepsiCo positive program, our strategy of staying future-fit as a business and as a brand.’

You worked at Danone and Nutricia before joining PepsiCo. Can you apply your learnings there to PepsiCo? Or is it a whole different ballgame?
‘There are more similarities than differences. In many ways you talk about consumers, food, and food branding. Infant food at Nutricia is highly regulated, and has a very complicated of set of rules. The dairy part of Danone has more similar challenges to PepsiCo snacks. The transition of the food system is as important to them as it is for us.’
Tell us more about PepsiCo’s transition…
‘The investments in creating a sustainable business are huge. It needs to become a driver of choice for the consumer. That's where marketing kicks in. At the beginning of this journey, we’re all struggling a bit to connect the two; very often, sustainability sits with the factory manager or sustainability manager. How do you create end-to-end transformation? So, the brand picks up all the great stuff we are doing and makes it the driver of choice.’
Can you give us an example?
‘Lay’s is about farming and growing potatoes. For us to have great potato chips in the future, we need to take care of the land. So, how do we make sure the farmer has a good P&L while practising sustainable or regenerative farming? We have long-term relationships with farmers and we visit them on a regular basis. One of them told me that Lay’s is his most demanding customer. But he loved it because he’s learning to do a much better job for nature, plus we pay more for the potato. This allows me to put investment back into sustainable farming. And then you have to make this part of the brand narrative. Because today, only 70 per cent of the consumers believe that Lay’s potato chips are made from real potatoes. Only 50 per cent believe it's a quality potato. And only 38 per cent believe that our potato is sustainably grown. So, that story needs to be told.’
Is it on the packaging?
‘No, but we are working on a youth program in the Netherlands; a first attempt to bring the PepsiCo positive practices to life for consumers, and also communicate why they should pay more for a Lay’s chip. This is an example of how we try to connect the whole value chain effectively.’
With staggering inflation, will people pay extra for sustainable brands?
‘We need to justify our price premium. Sustainability is only one part of the messaging. We do promotions and other stuff to help consumers. These are tough times for them but ultimately, salaries will be adjusted and things will balance out.’

Are you feeling the pinch of the economic crisis? People can cut back on snacks quite easily to save some money…
‘Things are shifting. Brands put more effort in promotions. We believe investing in brands is still the right thing to do and we’re even dialling up our investment on the brand. You also you see shifts between in-home and out of home consumption. Out of home is down but our brands are a fantastic part of in-home occasions, where people watch telly together or enjoy a picnic.’
Private labels are on the rise due to the increased cost of groceries. Do premium brands need to go all in to secure a premium price?
‘Absolutely. But that isn’t any different from what we did in the past, right? I worked in Turkey for a couple of years, a country with continuous, extreme inflation. Yet, brands still exist there. Brands are a sign of quality. For me, they’re value propositions. If you want to continue to stay on a premium price, you need to justify this with equity and with product. We need to constantly innovate to stay ahead of the game, for instance with a new nutritional brand such as Popworks, but also with new packaging, positive farming, and storytelling.’

Is Western Europe more health conscious than the US?
‘I don't know about that, but we do have the most demanding consumers. Our CEO is asking us to lead the pack. He said: you are in the toughest spot globally. I think this is great. My personal mission is to lead positive change for better futures. I want to connect people with better food choices, and I believe I can learn to add value in that process. We have global, iconic brands. The impact we can have is massive, huge. So, I'm trying to be a force for good.

What’s more important: purpose or performance?
‘There is no purpose without performance. You need to earn money to enable a transition. You cannot improve the world if there is no performance. At PepsiCo we say: transform and perform. It’s the same for profit and growth; if you grow with no profit, then it's empty net revenue.’

Pepsi is known for its high sugar drinks. Are you really moving away from that?
‘We are. I'm not responsible for beverages, but from what I hear from my colleagues, we are very good in non-sugar cola. We have very clear commitments to sugar reduction across our portfolio in absolute net revenue numbers. The commitment is to transform this business rapidly. Sugar reduction is key for us going forward.’
Do you have, do you have a specific process for marketing innovation?
‘Yeah, we put ideas on what we call the hopper. They come from many sources. We also have specific foresight tools to help predict the future. It’s important for us to leverage the scale of PepsiCo and have big breakthrough concepts. One example I love is Lay’s iconic restaurant flavours, such as the Subway flavour or the Pizza Hut flavour. Because of our scale we can connect with those companies on the right level and make a global breakthrough taste that people just crave.’

How about packaging innovation? Are you pushing to use less plastic?
‘Absolutely. We want to be zero net carbon by 2040 and you can't do this without having a solution for packaging. What I like specifically for Lay’s, for example, is a project where we were able to take a few centimetres of the pack. The number of truckloads we saved was amazing. The packs are recyclable too.’

Is Lay’s marketing communication going to change drastically because of AI?
‘Hard to say. In few areas we’re kind of playing with it. One is loyalty apps. If you put AI machine learning on consumer’s receipts, it can do amazing things. AI is much better able to predict the next purchase than the consumer. That will help us understand which consumer segments will have the biggest lifetime value and where can we pivot investments. Another place we look into is how we can enrich the creative process. Personalization is a big thing and AI can develop huge amounts of text in no time. We can use that to be more specific and more relevant to the individual consumer. The core of this still remains data security and data privacy.’
When was your last aha moment?
‘In a recent seminar there was a presentation about Gen Z. They have huge expectations of brands. They want us to deal with the planet differently. Diversity and inclusivity are important to them. What I learned is that 77 per cent of a family’s food and brand choices are already influenced by Gen Y and Gen Z. Like, whoa!’

What do you love most about being a marketer?
‘The impact brands have on culture. And the impact culture has on people's decision-making. This power is immense. With global brands you have great power and you can use that as a force for good. For me, this is really inspirational. You know, I never planned to be a marketer. I wanted to be a farmer, I studied agricultural economics. And then you see the whole palette, from the value chain, to farming, to commercialization, and to marketing. Somehow, it was a good match and it all worked out.’
What's your advice for younger marketers?
‘If you are in a big company like ours, ask yourself: do you please the consumer or do you please internal hierarchies? There are so many stakes and stakeholders. Every morning, when you look in the mirror, you should say: I'm gonna please the consumer. Ultimately, that is the long game you need to win. When talking about the turning around of brands, it's always the consumer that gives you that nugget; never your boss or your internal bubble. Also, end-to-end system thinking is becoming more important. The first time I took my team to a farm, many of them had never been on a potato farm. Once you’ve met the farmer, observed how a farm is run, people say: my goodness, is this how we do it?’

How do you listen to the consumer?
‘There are many tools, such as social listening. Nowadays, the connection between the marketer and the consumer is a lot easier. During Covid we couldn't visit homes, so we did Zoom calls. You talk to people in their homes and they take the camera to their fridge and show you what they have. That is so powerful. In marketing, you need to be in close contact. It beats a report from an insights department. You need to be with the consumer. We go shopping with them. We go to their homes and have meals with them. That's how you get inspired and really learn their needs.’
Do you still use your gut feeling as well?
‘It’s often said that marketing is science and art, right? But you also need to have a vision for the brand, a conviction. We, as marketers, are leading growth. We need to carve out a space where we unlock this growth. This is partly coming from the gut, and then you rally the troops to join you on that mission.’
About Jan van Twillert
Jan van Twillert is Vice President of Marketing at PepsiCo Northern Europe. He oversees the marketing strategies for some of the company's most iconic brands. Before joining PepsiCo, Jan served in a marketing leadership team of Danone and Nutricia.

About PepsiCo
PepsiCo, Inc. is an American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation, formed in 1965, when the Pepsi-Cola Company and Frito-Lay, Inc. merged. Today, PepsiCo includes such brands as Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Lay's, Gatorade, Tropicana, 7 Up/Teem, Doritos, and Cheetos.
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