NRF 2022: PepsiCo CEO sees bond-building moments amid pandemic
PepsiCo Foods’ CEO Steven Williams said that one silver lining coming out of the pandemic has been the opportunity to form stronger connections with employees and consumers.
He stressed, at a session at the NRF Big Show in New York, that it was particularly important to send “the right messages” to frontline workers, who represent the wider majority of PepsiCo’s workforce. “We don’t have a business model without healthy people,” he said.
While he has long been a visible leader, transitioning to “Ask me Anything” and other Zoom sessions took it to another level. “The intentionality of really making sure that the people in your organization know that you’re not only empathetic, but you’re there for them, you’re visible and you’re putting your money where your mouth is has been so important.”
The same approach was taken with consumers, marked by Frito-Lay’s “It’s About People” campaign. The effort highlighted PepsiCo’s coronavirus relief support with a message that a brand’s actions are more important than words.
“We have fun products,” said Mr. Williams. “We have products that make you feel comfortable. We have products that make you feel joy. But we want to make sure you understand that we are clear headed about how difficult [the pandemic] is. And it really is about people.”
He likewise believes consumer ties to local supermarkets “became even stronger” as stores were able to fill their needs during the uncertain times. “People, for lack of a better term, have fallen in love with their local store again,” he said.
Going forward, one concern is consumer fatigue. “If this kind of continues for long periods of time, I just worry about how much longer people will sustain themselves.”
Describing himself as a “tough-minded optimist,” however, Mr. Williams believes the shared cathartic experiences over the last 18 months will be more beneficial in the long run. “I think people got a lot closer, and I think more optimistic about the things that both individuals as well as companies like my company, as well as others, are doing to make the world a better place.”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What suggestions do you have for retailers or brands trying to retain or build on any consumer goodwill acquired during the pandemic? Do you expect the goodwill gained will be ephemeral or more enduring post-pandemic?