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AiThority Interview with Scott Finlow, Global CMO at PepsiCo Foodservice

Scott Finlow, Global CMO of PepsiCo Foodservice

Hi Scott, you are the CMO at a company that has some of the most iconic brands in the world. Please tell us about your current role at PepsiCo and how you reached here.

 I’m Global CMO of PepsiCo Foodservice, which encompasses the places we work, live, travel and play – such as restaurants, movie theaters, hotels and schools.

Every foodservice venue has a different set of needs; my team works with our customers – the people who operate these venues – to enhance their food and beverage experience. To help our customers bring smiles to people’s faces, we leverage three key differentiators: our iconic brands, which include everything from Pepsi, Mtn DEW and bubly to Cheetos, Doritos and Quaker, industry-leading capabilities from digital innovation to marketing expertise and focus on purpose from community impact to sustainability.

Over the course of 22 years at PepsiCo, I’ve held various positions around the world, including roles in Innovation, Insights and Marketing. My background in data and insights has been instrumental in our efforts, as we’re able to see consumers as people first, then build products and solutions to help meet their needs.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the early pandemic months? How did you leverage your experience in Marketing and business intelligence to overcome these challenges?

We’re all living through a massive disruption to our lives. This has had a significant, sustained impact on our Foodservice business – venues have closed and opened, the consumer adoption of digital and technology-related solutions has accelerated, and all of this has forced our customers to quickly adapt new tools and practices.

Through this disruption, we’ve refocused our efforts to be even more consumer-centric and customer empathetic. People’s needs and expectations have changed so we needed to respond to deliver an enhanced end-to-end user experience. By leveraging data and insights, we’ve enhanced that journey in every aspect of our business – our portfolio of beverage and snack brands, our equipment, our services to our customers.

For example, there’s been a huge shift to online ordering and delivery, and off-premise consumption. One in three people now digitally order food from restaurants each week, which means the context in which the consumer experiences our brands have shifted. For this reason, The PepsiCo Foodservice Digital Labs is scaling our Digital Menu Optimization offering, enabling local restaurants to tap into subject matter expertise and toolkits to enhance their online ordering and delivery.

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How did you utilize your access to high-quality marketing and communication technologies and solutions for smoother management of Marketing operations during the past 18-24 months?

It was imperative for our customers, partners, consumers and employees to understand our priorities and how we could help them navigate the unknown. One insight from early in the pandemic was that many of our customers weren’t set up for online ordering and Delivery, which became critical for survival for many of them.  We quickly worked with some of our Digital partners to offer services at no/low cost to help overcome this, whether it was POS integration or text-based communication.

Could you tell us about the tools and technologies you use for your Marketing and Sales processes?

PepsiCo uses an in-house technology called ROI Engine. ROI Engine is a machine learning-powered measurement system that allows us to make smarter decisions in measuring campaigns effectiveness and return-on-investment. For example, in 2020 this tool informed many of our marketers’ decisions to shift away from linear TV toward streaming, and to expand rapidly into online sales channels that became saturated with consumers amid COVID-19, particularly DTC offerings.

As it relates to sales, our PepsiCo Foodservice team is leading the way in shaping the intelligent sales agenda for our company. As the Away from Home channel rebounds post-COVID-19, driven by pent-up consumer demand and improved mobility, our sales team has been working hand-in-hand with our customers to ensure that their guests have access to their favorite PepsiCo beverages and snacks. To enable this, we harness the power of data and predictive analytics across our customer’s journey with us. This includes making sure that 1) we are in front of them at the right time as they make decisions to be our partners, 2) we offer them a perfect portfolio of products to best serve their guests, and 3) we provide them with a best-in-class service experience.

We are doing this by leveraging multitudes of first party, second party and third-party data and combining it with the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to ensure that the actionable recommendations are made available to our front-line associates who are expanding their capabilities as consultative partners to our customers.

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Could you please tell us how remote workplace norms continue to evolve around you?

Now that so many have experienced remote workstyles – or hybrid workstyles – it’s something that people have come to expect. This expectation impacts the work we do and how we do it.

PepsiCo has made changes to put employees in the driver’s seat. The PepsiCo network is vast – with operations in more than 200 countries and approximately 260,000 employees. For those in corporate roles, we have reopened our headquarter locations for those who prefer the office setting, while continuing to stay close to city and local public health guidance.  We’ve found ways to be just as collaborative and creative as we were in the office, and people appreciate the option to balance their work with other priorities. An added benefit is a more flexible approach to where and how work gets done will help us accelerate our sustainability journey by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions from car trips to the office, using less paper, and reducing our real estate footprint, which will lead to lower energy usage and less waste.  Looking ahead as we come out of Omicron, we’re building plans to marry the best of both worlds.

Please tell us about your Quik Pick technology and how it improves retail experiences?

Quik Pick is a next-generation vending platform that transforms a standard cooler into a digital experience that allows people to browse and buy several products simultaneously. Vending machines, historically speaking, do not present the option for people to put an item back on the shelf without being charged if they change their mind, or utilize cashless transactions.

Quik Pick uses the latest computer vision technologies powered by AI to automatically recognize and itemize products removed from the cooler before charging consumers in a seamless and cashless transaction.

Quik Pick is part of a suite of “Quik” solutions that we are implementing to move further into the unattended retail space, including Quik Cart – a flexible solution ideal for travel and workplace channels. For our customers and operators, these solutions alleviate labor pressures and space constraints, offering a fully unattended solution while also driving guest satisfaction.

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How does PepsiCo use Cloud and AI capabilities to improve labor productivity and improve customer experiences, especially when it comes to omnichannel engagements?

As mentioned, our Quik Pick technology is the most recent and relevant example of how the PepsiCo Foodservice team leverages AI to improve customer experiences. We see a lot of growth in the unattended retail market, as there are many benefits to both the customer and the end-user.

In a similar vein, we recently partnered with New Stand to bring a unique experience to college campuses. New Stand is a boutique retail experience described as a “bodega meets blog” where students can place an order digitally for pickup or purchase in-person using contactless or attended check-out, depending on their preference. New Stand’s technology, modular store design, community-building app and loyalty program offer an opportunity to enhance the end-user experience while simultaneously helping businesses that may be challenged by ongoing labor shortages.

Could you please provide examples from your experience at PepsiCo why AI is so important for re-engineering the entire supply chain management?

By leveraging AI and other cutting-edge tech, our equipment innovation team has found ways to deliver experiences that allow for personalization and choice while driving efficiencies for our customers. Beyond that, we’re able to gather valuable data about the types of products people are seeking, seasonal and daily shopping trends, and other inputs that can better inform our supply chain management.

What kind of talent are you looking to hire in 2022, to expand your marketing ops and product roadmap?

We recognize that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of many technologies and trends by 3-5 years and we will need to ensure our teams keep pace.  We’re investing to build our internal talent and teams in areas like media and performance marketing.  We’ll also continue to look externally for top talent with a digital-first mindset and a passion for understanding how we can leverage technology to create amazing experiences for our customers and consumers. On a personal level, I seek out individuals that can adapt, innovate and collaborate while remaining open-minded and empathetic toward our customers, consumers and colleagues. At the end of the day, we are a people-first organization which allows us to do great work.

Your predictions for the future of AI and Cloud ecosystems coming together in the post-COVID era, especially for the foodservice industry?

COVID underscored the value of data and intelligence for business leaders – and those of us in the foodservice industry were no exception. As more companies lean on data and AI solutions, I predict more industries – including foodservice – will turn to the cloud-based services to help drive results.

It all comes back to CX. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing the experience they have with a brand, not just the end product. This is why our foodservice innovations go beyond our product portfolio to also include the way in which we serve up our snacks and beverages. The combined use of cloud-based services powered by AI will play a big role in helping us drive decisions based on predictive modeling to uncover patterns or trends, leverage insights to optimize our workflows, and ultimately deliver better consumer experiences. For foodservice operators that serve hundreds or thousands of people every week, having the ability to offer personalized experiences goes a long way in building brand loyalty.

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Some advice to every CMO looking to create a solid marketing/ retail tech stack using AI, Data Ops, and automation as their pillars of digital transformation in the current era:

My advice is to always remain customer empathetic and consumer centric. With so much buzz around different technologies, leaders may be tempted to jump on the bandwagon – but the end goal of deploying technology of any kind should be to add value. For customers, value means being mindful of their needs and providing solutions that don’t impede operations or drive cost. For consumers, value is about providing a pleasant and seamless experience – and perhaps even providing a solution to a challenge they didn’t know they had. The imperative is to build the tech around the experience, not around the tools themselves.

From a leadership perspective, CMOs must collaborate across boundaries within the organization, understanding that different teams and functions may own various pieces of the data or tools. It’s also important to leave space for trial and error. The business environment is more dynamic than ever, so building agile teams that can test and learn, adapt and refine quickly to keep up with demands is crucial.

What I try to reinforce as CMO is that digital transformation is a journey with no end in sight. To continuing bringing value to our customers and consumers, we must understand the need to constantly evolve and be willing to try new things. That’s how true growth and impact are created.

Thank you, Scott! That was fun and we hope to see you back on soon.

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As Global Chief Marketing Officer of PepsiCo Foodservice, Scott Finlow leads brand development, product and equipment innovation, consumer and industry insights, and customer marketing efforts for the company’s multi-billion foodservice division. Scott’s team is responsible for developing a portfolio of transformative products, equipment and experiences to meet the emerging needs of consumers and foodservice operators.

Scott has been with PepsiCo for 22 years in a variety of Marketing and Insights roles in the US and Asia. Among his favorite PepsiCo experiences were launching a Salty Snacks business in Vietnam and launching Gatorade in Japan and Korea.

Scott is a graduate of Tufts University and lives in New York City with his wife Pam, son Tai and daughter Rei.

PepsiCo Logo

PepsiCo products are enjoyed by consumers more than one billion times a day in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. PepsiCo generated $70 billion in net revenue in 2020, driven by a complementary beverage and convenient foods portfolio that includes Lays, Doritos, Cheetos, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Quaker, and SodaStream. PepsiCo’s product portfolio includes a wide range of enjoyable foods and beverages, including many iconic brands that generate more than $1 billion each in estimated annual retail sales.

Guiding PepsiCo is our vision to Be the Global Leader in Beverages and Convenient Foods by Winning with PepsiCo Positive (pep+). pep+ is our strategic end-to-end transformation that puts sustainability at the center of how we will create value and growth by operating within planetary boundaries and inspiring positive change for planet and people.

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