Sioned Winfield is a senior member of the team responsible for changing the way PepsiCo uses insights to aid faster and more effective innovation. The insights transformation director talks to Lucy Britner about the need to be “closer and more responsive” to consumers and using AI to determine lasting trends.

Sioned Winfield’s career path to PepsiCo likely started when she was still at school. From playing ‘guess the brand’ on TV adverts as a child, to developing a brand identity for her ‘Young Enterprise’ company as a teen, she says going into food and beverage marketing was a natural choice. 

“After several years developing and delivering brand strategies and campaigns for McVitie’s, Kellogg‘s and Hovis, as well as PepsiCo, I was looking for a new challenge,” the Walkers and Quaker Oats maker’s insights transformation director explains of a role she has held since the summer of 2019. “One of the many things I love about PepsiCo is that opportunities are available across a wide variety of functions such as insights, R&D, design and e-commerce.” 

Winfield has now been with PepsiCo for just over nine years and in 2018, she acted as a mentor for the company’s start-up programme, Nutrition Greenhouse. She says the experience gave her the opportunity to learn from the speed, agility and resourcefulness of start-ups. Winfield served as a mentor to a start-up based out of Israel, called A1C Foods that develops diabetes- and keto-friendly foods.  

“The experience was enlightening and highlighted the expertise we can bring to companies like A1C, whilst also bringing the ‘outside in’ in terms of external trends, growth opportunities and also working against a minimal viable product mindset, meaning we are moving faster to get to consumers and iterating as we go, rather than waiting for perfection and missing an opportunity to meet an important consumer need.” 

For Winfield, these lessons have been relevant in the context of her current role, which includes working with tech start-ups and experimenting with new ways of working within the organisation.

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Transforming insights 

The insights arm at PepsiCo is a close sibling to the brand marketing group and Winfield says the department “undertook an ambitious shift to digitalisation against the challenge that legacy insights tools brought” to the business, including slow and expensive consumer feedback and an emphasis on validation versus learning.

She says the goal was to transform the way insights helped PepsiCo to deliver “stronger creative effectiveness and go-to-market speed on innovation opportunities”. Winfield’s role is to drive the transformation needed to enable this digitalisation in terms of capability, tools and adoption.  

Winfield points to the speed at which the food and beverage market is changing, in response to rapidly shifting consumer habits, dynamics that haven’t been held up by Covid-19.

“As an organisation, we want to be closer and more responsive to evolving consumer needs and trends,” she says. “Consumer behaviour is shifting faster than ever before, especially amid the pandemic, and becoming more fragmented, meaning we need to work harder to make our brands even more relevant and authentic to the people who buy them.” 

For Winfield, data and analytics are high on the agenda when it comes to helping PepsiCo’s brands derive deeper insights about their audiences. 

“Digitised capabilities like social listening and trend prediction are enabling the earlier identification of ideas, via partners like Black Swan,” she explains. 

According to UK-based social data company Black Swan, which uses its AI-powered ‘Trendscope’ to make predictions on trends, the company helped PepsiCo to identify trends which led to the creation of snacks brand Off the Eaten Path and Bubly sparkling water.

PepsiCo has also pioneered its own AI-powered tool. Ada, named after the pioneering female mathematician Ada Lovelace, is a consumer insights platform Winfield claims drives speed, simplification and effectiveness.

"Our global insights team is constantly exploring and tracking how our consumers' everyday experiences are changing, and what this means for their food and beverage consumption," she explains. "Over the last few years, we've prioritised investing in predictive digital platforms and building proprietary, in-house insights tools and systems, as well as scaling human immersion techniques that are all fuelled by AI and machine learning models, to help us better understand consumer needs across the world, spot trends sooner and predict what will stick." 

She says the information is used to help shape PepsiCo's innovation pipeline, increase the company's ability to act on ideas as well as be more effective when developing new products.

"Ada sources, sorts, connects and − most importantly − leverages millions of consumer insights generated from all over the world," Winfield explains. "We designed Ada in partnership with several technology companies, and the platform truly revolutionises how we generate and action consumer insights."

Ada not only helps PepsiCo connect with consumers but also with marketing, R&D and other functions across the business. The platform applies big data, predictive analytics and other digital tools to bring consumers into every stage of the innovation, brand-building and creative development cycle. 

"This helps our brands and business become more consumer-centric," adds Winfield. 

When it comes to examples of how Ada has helped product development, the insights transformation director points to PepsiCo's UK savoury-snack brand Wotsits and what she calls "significant untapped potential".

She explains Ada, powered by automated consumer insights platform Zappi, identified Wotsits Giants as a product that had potential that could be maximised by getting to market quickly. 

"The tool could draw a distinction between ideas with big, breakthrough potential versus incremental scale potential, which helped us bring the product to market successfully," she says. "An idea fit for short-term trial means it's best to expedite the product and limit initial investment. Legacy tools would have missed this nuance, leading to a slow moving and too-costly launch strategy."

According to Winfield, Wotsits Giants were a big hit and helped grow the retail sales value of the brand by 57% in 2020. Following this success, PepsiCo is now launching Monster Munch Giants.

The company's consumer insights division has teams around the world that are "fully integrated within local markets and empowered to make local innovation decisions whilst leveraging global knowledge from other parts of the world", says Winfield.

Some trends tend to be very market-specific. For example, Doritos Wasabi were launched specifically for the Brazilian market because PepsiCo believed the flavour would resonate locally. 

"Other trends we see bubble-up globally or across several markets," she adds. "For instance, the pandemic has heightened focus on immune system fortification and functional ingredients. 'Reduces stress', 'better sleep', 'calming', 'improves mood' and 'immunity' are all top 20 benefits we're seeing across markets."

Diverse talent pool 

As well as a need to work with tech companies and start-ups, Winfield also emphasises the need for a diverse talent pool. And in the week when International Women's Day has been marked, she says companies should look to ensure they have strategies to employ, develop and retain women, such as mentorship and sponsorship support, in addition to advancing the empowerment of women outside an organisation.

PepsiCo's efforts are part of the US giant's overall moves to increase gender and racial diversity, which are made through the three pillars – 'people', 'business' and 'communities'.

"We have committed to making actionable improvements for women across the pillars of people, business and communities, explicitly investing in helping women through different stages of life and career, with the goal to reach 50% women in managerial roles by 2025." 

Winfield says she has also had opportunities to grow through female coaching programmes and mentoring opportunities − including Nutrition Greenhouse. 

"I've worked for several amazing women leaders and have used what I've learned to develop the talents and confidence of my own all-female team," she finishes. 

A team that now also includes Ada.

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