Will a virtual quick serve restaurant drive Pepsi’s cola sales?

Photo: PepsiCo
May 04, 2021

Pepsi has debuted a virtual quick service restaurant concept that seeks to pair the brand’s colas with a variety of complementary foods, such as burgers, chicken sandwiches and ribs.

Pep’s Place, according to the brand, is its attempt at “upending” what consumers think of food ordering and delivery, with cola coming first. Customers start the ordering process by selecting what they want to drink. The site recommends entrees, sides and dessert pairings for visitors based on their drink of choice.

The concept, which is open at select sites around the country, offers delivery from orders placed on PepsPlaceRestaurant.com and through DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEats. The brand will operate the site for 30 days before it goes offline.

A preliminary test conducted by RetailWire yesterday paired a Pepsi Real Sugar with a classic burger and fries prepared by a local Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que in New Jersey.

Will a virtual quick serve restaurant drive Pepsi’s cola sales?
Source: PepsiCo

Pepsi is using Pep’s Place as the focal point of a national ad campaign that launches with eight commercials, including Spanish language spots. The brand’s spots are intended to drive home an “unapologetic” message of the culinary delights associated with the pairing of its soft drinks and grilled foods.

“For years we have known that Pepsi is the perfect complement to a variety of foods,” said Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s vice president of marketing.

“With the launch of Pep’s Place, we have designed a new ‘fast beverage’ restaurant delivery concept that features a menu and experience literally built around the idea of what foods go best with Pepsi, allowing consumers at home to fully optimize their meals,” he said. “We are confident that by doing this, everyone will agree — and taste firsthand — how well Pepsi goes with their favorite foods.”

Pep’s Place is not the first time that PepsiCo has tested the direct-to-consumer waters. The consumer packaged goods giant introduced two new D2C sites last year — PantryShop.com and Snacks.com — to enable consumers to order products from across its portfolio of brands, including Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Pepsi, Quaker and others. The site sells product bundles with prices ranging from $17 to $49.95. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you expect Pepsi will learn from its Pep’s Place campaign and concept? Do you expect major brand companies to try concepts like this in support of their direct-to-consumer initiatives?

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15 Comments on "Will a virtual quick serve restaurant drive Pepsi’s cola sales?"

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Shep Hyken

I like this idea. Just like a fine dining restaurant has wine pairings, why not go to a broader level of consumer and have Pepsi product pairings?

DeAnn Campbell

Agree with you, Shep. I’ve always wondered by soft drinks tie themselves so tightly to QSR type food offerings. Not everyone drinks wine at nicer restaurants. And this concept would free Pepsi up to engage with an almost infinite range of food partners without paying the cost of fulfillment themselves.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director, Main Street Markets
1 year 3 months ago

I remember when I was really young, restaurants would tie Coke or Pepsi to their food lines to promote meal but, in this version, suggestions are made based on what you order to drink – pretty interesting. Coke has been doing a campaign for a long while now that shows food you like from tacos to BBQ that go with an ice-cold Coke. I can’t wait to see what new data is gleaned from this experiment.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Coke coined the phrase “Everything goes better with Coke,” which strikes me as a much better idea than “Only some things go better with some Pepsi.” And really, delivery based on a soft drink? Does their consumer franchise have too much expendable income?

DeAnn Campbell

The doors to innovation have swung open in retail and it’s heartening to see so many companies boldly try fresh ideas like Pep’s Place. The learnings they will gather will not only help them learn which food sellers to partner with, but also which flavor profiles are most or least popular, which geographic regions are the biggest Pepsi drinkers, and more. And the brand affection they gain with this exercise will more than offset the marketing spend. A big win all around for multiple businesses within communities: Pepsi wins, restaurants win, UberEats wins, and customers get to have some fun. What’s not to like?

Dave Bruno

The brand marketer in me absolutely loves this program, and I think it has great short-term potential to drive interest and awareness. The old guy in me, however, wonders if the “soda pairing” concept is legit. Are people really going to choose their meals based on their soda choices? Is being offered that option really going to drive engagement with Pep’s Place? I am skeptical, to be sure. I haven’t had a soda in probably 15 years, so maybe I’m not the best evaluator, but I definitely think it’s a stretch, despite the very effective branding and creative aspects of the program.

Rich Kizer

I think the fast-food market is a battlefield. And knowing I can get it delivered? Ho hum. No news here. So now, think about the list of fast food options they will have to compete with in this very crowded market. Perhaps the meal options will be outstanding; I hope so for their sake.

Doug Garnett

This is a great idea for Pepsi — but not because of the “pick your drink first” approach. Last I checked, Pepsi lacks the taste to be a fine wine paired with the right food.

Should it work (and I hope it does) it will be a result of the Pepsi name, highly visible design, and connecting it with fast food.

Gene Detroyer

This sounds a bit convoluted to me. Why would I start with my cola when in fact I am feeling Big Mac?

Ryan Mathews

Once again an engaging idea that doesn’t stand up so well once you burrow slightly below the surface.

Pairing soft drinks? Really? The “pairing” crowd doesn’t drink soft drinks. The problem isn’t that people don’t know the perfect entree to “pair” with a Mountain Dew, it’s that they aren’t drinking as much Mountain Dew as they used too. “Pairing” a sugar-based beverage with a high-cholesterol burger isn’t really going to attract the haute cuisine set.

The idea itself is interesting, like P&G opening laundries and dry cleaners. I’m just not sold on it as applied tooth’s category.

Jeff Weidauer

This will be interesting to watch, but the idea of starting with the drink and then finding out what pairs best is a stretch. Pepsi lacks the complexity of wine or craft beer — and it’s not like the available food options will be especially broad. So … interesting, but not likely to start a trend.

Venky Ramesh

Certainly an innovative experiment – they have turned the QSR ordering upside down, starting with a drink first to drive subsequent food sales. It would be very interesting to see what they learn from this – like how do people respond to ordering a drink first, how does impulse purchase like this work in the virtual world, do people really like the idea of pairing food with soft drinks, how does it impact the food sales, etc.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

A brilliant marketing campaign to increase awareness and sales of the Pepsi lineup while fulfilling our fast food cravings! However from a health and public good perspective, the campaign further contributes to America’s obesity crisis. From 2000 to 2018, adult obesity increased from 30.5 percent to 42.4 percent, while severe obesity increased from 4.7 percent to 9.2 percent, according to the CDC. While this innovative approach won’t increase the market size, it is likely to take share from the competition.

Matthew Brogie
1 year 3 months ago

My expectation is that we are in a period of “wild innovation,” which naturally follows the scale of disruption we’ve had over the past 15 months. Everything we’ve imagined about how consumers expect to interact with brands, shop for what they want, and get it delivered to them has been flipped, while their comfort with and acceptance of tech enabled buying has accelerated massively!

The pace of business innovation is gated by technology, and that gate is wide open, and it is fueled by changes in the eco-system, which has been unprecedented. This move by Pepsi is representative of the innovation that I believe we’ll be seeing for some time from all sectors of the consumer goods industry.

Brian Cluster

After just coming off some really solid marketing and product training, I was reminded of the centrality of solving problems. The obvious question that a brand should ask is what problem are they trying to solve? Is it an awareness problem, a distribution problem, product taste, or product delivery problem? In this age of disruption, everyone wants to disrupt vs. being disrupted. That makes sense but if it is a disruption to solve a very minor problem, it can be a waste of resources and talent. Pepsi and other brands have had success with DTC initiatives in the past year. Time will tell if these and other new approaches will gain traction in a quickly evolving digital marketplace.


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