05/10/2011 10:28 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2011

Inside Pepsi's Secret Labs: Taste Robots, Bee Larvae And More

In this week's New Yorker article "Snacks for a Fat Planet," John Seabook explores PepsiCo's attempt to create healthier snack food, while still remaining the largest food-and-beverage company in the United States and the second largest in the world, after Nestlé. CEO Indra Nooyi has made it her mission to increase "good for you products" from its current $10 million business to $30 million by 2020.

Below are some highlights from the eye-opening article:

  • In 2010, PepsiCo spent $3.4 billion in marketing and advertising and Pepsi, Lay’s, and Mountain Dew together accounted for more than $30 billion dollars in sales in 2010.
  • PepsiCo was able to develop "'15 micron salt,' a new kind of salt that produces the same taste curve as the salt the company has been using—a pyramid-shaped crystal known as Alberger salt—but contains twenty-five to forty per cent less sodium." By the end of 2012, expect to see 15 micron salt in a bag of Lay's.
  • PepsiCo’s has "a robot that the company’s scientists have fitted with human taste buds." In "the quest for the holy grail" of a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that tastes exactly like sugar, PepsiCo scientists grew cultured cells, injected the genetic sequences of the four known taste receptors (leaving out salt) into them, and then hardwired the cells to a computer.
  • PepsiCo has a network of "trekkers" from around the world that collect interesting products, and the robot tastes these samples. The samples include: fruits, plants, roots, chili peppers, bugs, beetles and bee larvae.
  • Nooyi explains that if you give a kid a carrot, the kid might not want to eat it. But, if you turn it into a drinkable form, maybe they will. She explains, "I’ve drinkified the snack!" Alternatively, she is also interested in snackifying drinks (think fruit juice in squeezable form). It is a "glorious area" of new convergence, Nooyi believes.

So, to recap, PepsiCo has a robot that eats bee larvae. Enough said.