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No appetite for this

Pepsi has realised that health is not wealth for the company, so it’s junking its snack-smart foods.

india Updated: Mar 26, 2012 23:10 IST

Barring the odd suicide bomber, we live in times when everyone treats his or her body as a temple. If the 80s was about aerobics, the 90s about jogging, the 2000s about yoga and a ‘healthy lifestyle’, we have entered a decade where health food has moved from the side-table to the one in the middle of dining rooms.

But a correlation between ‘healthy’ and ‘tasteless’ lingers in the public mind, and while nutritional foods may be the rage in clusters of health-freakery, the masses would rather have healthy edibles being brought to them as an appetiser rather than as the main course. Case in point: PepsiCo’s brash entry into the ‘healthier’ food and beverage world followed by its quiet retreat now.

Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi decided to ride the wave by diversifying Pepsi out of the burp-junk food zone into more nutritious opt-ions. With fizzy drinks and obesity-friendly snacks on the same road that tobacco took a few decades ago, Ms Nooyi’s long-term vision is probably right.

But with PepsiCo stocks rising only 2% (compared to Coca-Cola’s up more than 50%) and Pepsi now the third biggest-selling aerated drink in the US after Coca-Cola and Diet Coke, it’s the short-term that may have made the same Ms Nooyi decide to take off the ‘Snack smart’ logos from packets of chips and other munchies.

But perhaps the issue of ‘junk vs healthy food’ isn’t about people not responding to nutritional snacks with extreme salivation per se. The packaged snacks and drinks industry does not occupy the same stall that sell snacks such as samosas (in India) or hot dogs (in the US).

The error that PepsiCo may have made could be wanting to convert eaters’ habits rather than to supplement them. Like the consumer who has a night out hogging and drinking only to hit the treadmill as ‘penitence’, health food, for most people, will still be an option when he or she feels that a little more care must be given to the body. Unless, taking a leaf out of the tobacco industry, Ms Nooyi decides to have PepsiCo diversify into non-snacks and beverages and not dilute the fun and profitable (but unhealthy) core brand.

Without getting into selling baked sunflower seed chips or — horror of horrors — non-caffeinated energy drinks.