PepsiCo stands to benefit from “significant” investment in functional and healthy products, amid tightening restrictions on the marketing of ‘junk foods’ to children, the head of health policy at the company said today (16 August).

Derek Yach, senior vice president of global health policy for PepsiCo, said the US group had set itself nutrition targets to meet the increasing global focus on reducing childhood obesity.

“You can argue that every time there is a restriction on marketing or the composition of products, ie lowering sugar or salt, whatever that might be, the companies that are going to benefit in the long term are those that are going to see the potential for enormous innovation and invest in it significantly, which is what we are doing,” Yach said.

“It is about making sure that the marketing today … is increasingly targeted towards healthier lifestyles and healthier eating,” he added.

Governments around the world are looking to regulate how certain foods are sold and marketed.

For example, in Mexico, the government is preparing legislation to curb the sale of high-sugar and fatty products from the country’s schools, as well as limiting how companies advertise their products.

In May, US First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a plan calling on food manufacturers to curb the marketing of unhealthy foods to children in a bid to tackle the problem of childhood obesity.

The plan detailed 70 specific recommendations, including improved labels on food and menus, reduced marketing of unhealthy products to children, and providing healthy food in schools.

Yach said PepsiCo supports the US government’s plan but emphasised that the company has also set out its own nutrition targets.

Targets include increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds in its product portfolio, and reducing sodium by 25% in key global brands.

“We are gearing up for these targets in very substantial ways, it is a core business activity supported by the CEO [Indra Nooyi] herself,” Yach said.

He added that PepsiCo has different levels of innovation across the spectrum and added that as science evolves, so too may its targets and product development.

“It goes across the board. We are firstly having to address reducing the concerns of nutrients …and then we can get on with developing some of the enhancements and the added benefits that do improve functional aspects of some people’s lives. Food and beverage companies, and even pharmaceutical companies are beavering away because the quality of science is just getting better year-by-year,” he added.

“I have no doubt that five years from now we will find that there is a need to review these [targets] and maybe change/alter/add in things that we haven’t even thought of, like what nutrient gaps are there in the population that we were unaware of a few years ago. I’m sure that all of these and developments in science will change our goals and commitments. They will evolve as science improves and as we make progress,” Yach said.