In 2012, the PepsiCo R&D team aimed to deliver on a consumer insight: RUFFLES’ target demographic, men ages 18-34,[i] wanted a “heartier”[ii] chip., [iii] Director of PepsiCo Frito-Lay North America R&D, Keith Barber, articulated the challenge: “‘…how do we design a heartier chip, while keeping it thin?’”[iv]
To solve this problem, the team looked to accentuate the depth and width of RUFFLES’ ridges. After typical potato slicing and cooking yielded unusable prototypes (ridges were too sharp, structure could not withstand cooking process), the team 3D printed over twenty plastic chip prototypes, branded RUFFLES Deep Ridged (RUFFLES ULTIMATE in the US).[v]
Prototyping with 3D printing enabled the team to get quick focus group feedback on the concept and determine whether to invest more time and resources into the design. 3D printing facilitated the development of the chip and the introduction of a new source of revenue: “‘patents on the design, the cutter, the mouth experience.’”[viii]
Today, consumer goods companies need 3D printing in order to rapidly prototype to meet evolving consumer tastes, capture trends, compete against established rivals, and protect against startups (who innovate in small batches, incurring minimal costs and turnaround times).
As for how PepsiCo will address 3D printing in the future, longtime (and recently departed) CEO Indra Nooyi doubled the R&D budget.[ix] She also hired 3M’s head of design, Mauro Porcini as Chief Design Officer[x] and he now oversees the SoHo Design & Innovation Center.[xi] While this could be a hopeful sign for PepsiCo’s future additive manufacturing capabilities, it is unclear what mediums the design team uses.[xii]
One warning signal is that for a 2018 co-promotion of Brisk and Marvel’s Black Panther, the team outsourced a batch of 250 3D printed cans to Protolabs.[xiii] While PepsiCo remains silent on in-house 3D printing efforts, it touts other innovation priorities like their Fast Pitch internal “Shark Tank”[xiv] and The Hive incubator.[xv] Unlike Coca-Cola, PepsiCo does not employ a 3D printing specialist.[xvi] Is PepsiCo outsourcing its additive manufacturing to external partners and startups in its incubator? Or is it just being secretive?
Regardless, PepsiCo could improve the adoption of additive manufacturing by training their packaging and brand design experts in 3D printing. 3D prototypes should be used in consumer research as a better form of stimuli (vs. 2D printouts). And, while in the RUFFLES case they printed plastic, PepsiCo should consider how new technologies in 3D printing may enable them to produce edible prototypes.
PepsiCo’s organizational design raises questions. In addition to Porcini’s SoHo office, innovation teams are split across function (marketing, design, e-commerce, digital) and category (hydration, fruit & veg, e.g.).[xviii] Is this division of innovation across units hindering adoption of additive manufacturing?
And, with regards to manufacturing, can PepsiCo create and/or ascertain flexibility in its production line to accommodate special edition packaging? For example, can a batch of 250 3D printed cans fit into the production line without incurring switchover costs?
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 While women liked the “light and airy” nature of Lay’s chips, men were looking for a chip with “thick ridges, [that] is filling and offers a harder bite.’” Functionally, research showed that men were also looking for a chip that could “‘absorb the alcohol’” but not dampen “‘their buzz.’” [iii]
 PepsiCo Packaging Engineer Andrew Phinney spoke about the Brisk/Black Panther partnership at TCT Show 2018, but did not speak on any internal additive manufacturing efforts. [xix]
[i] PepsiCo, “Ruffles launches Ultimate Chips and Dips, offers first taste at MAXIM’s ‘ultimate party,’” May 17, 2012, http://www.pepsico.com/live/story/ruffles-launches-ultimate-chips-and-dips-offers-first-taste-at-maxims-ultimate-p05172012524, accessed November 2018.
[ii] Daily Beast, “The Innovation Behind the Crunch Enjoyed Around the World,” https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-innovation-behind-the-crunch-enjoyed-around-the-world, accessed November 2018.
[iii, iv, v, vi] E. J. Schultz, “How the Women Running RUFFLES Unscrambled the ‘Bro Code,’” AdAge, June 2, 2013, https://adage.com/article/news/women-running-ruffles-unscrambled-bro-code/241821/, access November 2018.
[vii] PepsiCo, “The Making of RUFFLES® Deep Ridged Potato Chips in 6 GIFs,” May 12, 2015, http://www.pepsico.com/live/story/the-making-of-ruffles-deep-ridged-potato-chips-in-6-gifs, accessed November 2018.
[viii, x, xiv] Jennifer Reingold, “PepsiCo’s CEO Was Right. Now What?” Fortune, June 5, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/06/05/pepsico-ceo-indra-nooyi/, accessed November 2018.
[ix] Benjamin Snyder, “This potato chip has a surprisingly futuristic backstory,” Fortune, June 6, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/06/06/pepsi-chip-3d/, accessed November 2018.
[xi] PepsiCo, “Headquarters,” http://design.pepsico.com/contacts.php?v=73, accessed November 2018.
[xii] PepsiCo, http://design.pepsico.com/stories.php?v=73, accessed November 2018.
[xiii, xvii] Protolabs, “PepsiCo R&D Team Elevates Packaging Design with 3D Printing,” https://www.protolabs.com/resources/case-studies/pepsico/, accessed November 2018.
[xiv] Jennifer Reingold, “PepsiCo’s CEO Was Right. Now What?” Fortune, June 5, 2015, http://fortune.com/2015/06/05/pepsico-ceo-indra-nooyi/, accessed November 2018.
[xv] Brett Dworski, “New PepsiCo Platform to Develop Emerging Brands,” CSP Daily News, August 22, 2018, https://www.cspdailynews.com/snacks-candy/new-pepsico-platform-develop-emerging-brands, accessed November 2018.
[xvi] LinkedIn, Jim Watson, https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-watson-b6ba9078/, accessed November 2018.
[xviii] LinkedIn, accessed November 2018.
[xix] Laura Griffiths, “TCT Show 2018: Airbus, PepsiCo and BMW to deliver additive manufacturing insights,” TCT Magazine, September 17, 2018, https://www.tctmagazine.com/tct-events/tct-show-uk/tct-show-2018-airbus-pepsi-bmw-additive-manufacturing-conference/, accessed November 2018.
[xx] (Cover Photo) Dan Souza, “We Try the New Ruffles Ultimate Chips ‘For Men,'” Serious Eats, https://www.seriouseats.com/2012/11/ruffles-ultimate-chips-new-for-men-flavors.html, accessed November 2018.