PepsiCo UK and Ireland president Richard Evans is on a mission to take PepsiCo to the next level. Ten months into the job, he talks to Adam Leyland

PepsiCo was one of the standout winners from the World Cup.

The Walkers Flavour Cup went down a storm. Sales of Doritos and Pepsi Max were up high-teen digits. Juices and smoothies are back in growth.

And perhaps most bizarrely, sales of its oat-based cereals - up 23% so far this year after the long, cold winter - continue to grow, despite the UK basking in a heatwave.

But Richard Evans, PepsiCo president for UK and Ireland, is a hard taskmaster. "Year-to-date, we are quite pleased," he says.

Only quite? "I think we're good. But we need to be great."

One particular frustration right now is the performance of the lower-fat Walkers Baked range. While the bagged snacks category "put in an excellent performance, particularly over the last few weeks", he says, Baked is one of those "bits of the portfolio" that he has still to unlock.

Having returned to the UK in 2007 to run the Walkers division, Evans has a particular affinity with bagged snacks, presiding over the Do Us a Flavour campaign, the launch of Red Sky, the relaunch of Monster Munch, to boost market share feats that saw him promoted to the role of president for UK and Ireland in August last year.

But Evans hasn't been able to work his magic on Baked and Sun Bites and he's slightly at a loss. "I cannot understand why Baked isn't flying," he says. "It's tasty and it's healthy." But with sales up about 5% so far this year, he admits "sales are disappointing".

Another unlocked "bit" is Sun Bites, whose sales YTD are actually in slight decline. "It has very high repeat rates, but we are struggling to get enough consumers to sample it."

Evans has good reason to be frustrated, as he has nailed his colours to such snacks in a Health Report Pledge Card announced in March.

Among the commitments he put his name to (see box) was a promise that, by 2015, 50% of PepsiCo's sales in the bagged snacks category will be either baked or feature what the report calls 'positive nutrition' defined as crisps containing 'nutritionally significant amounts of fibre, wholegrain, fruits, vegetables or micronutrients'.

While the initiative is UK-based, and reflects the strong convictions of Evans as a trim, fit 49-year-old father of two, it also dovetails well with PepsiCo's wider pledge to deliver Performance with Purpose.

Evans rejects suggestions the programme is part of an unnecessary corporate social responsibility agenda dictated from New York. The commitments represent sound business sense, he says.

"One third of PepsiCo's sales in the UK and Ireland is fruit and grain-based. And the fastest growing division is Quaker. If the consumer wasn't becoming more health-conscious, and wanting more healthy eating solutions, we would be wasting our time. It's a bold move, but it's our job, and our opportunity, to meet those needs."

Despite a smooth corporate exterior, and an international career with PepsiCo dating back to 1990, and spanning positions in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe, Evans left PepsiCo at the turn of the century to join internet portal a move that marks him out as more of a risk-taker and entrepreneur than perhaps first meets the eye.

It also demonstrates the fact that Evans is up for a challenge. Indeed, with his early career at Trivial Pursuit and his private pilot's licence, one suspects he's a secret adrenaline junkie.

And there's no shortage of challenges right now. Even without the added encumbrance of further health commitments, it's already hard enough to deliver sales and profit and share targets in this market, as he admits. 

While proud of last year's award-winning Sandwich ad campaign, and the follow-on success of the Walkers Flavour Cup competition which resulted in a higher sales uptick than the now legendary Do us a Flavour campaign of 2008 he is irked at the static share of Walkers in the bagged snacks category. Own-label share has declined, he claims, as consumers use brands to navigate quality and safety. But the quality of its portfolio deserves a higher share, he says.

"We're not winning as much share as we should be. Because so many brands are on deal, consumers are tempted. They always come back to us, because they feel they've wasted the price on a disappointing alternative, but I just wish they wouldn't leave us in the first place."

As a market leader, however, it's his job to lead, and next month a new range of Walkers Extra Crunchy crisps will go on sale. Available exclusively in sharing bags, the new crisps contain 20% less fat than the regular Walkers crisps, but in this case the development is more around identifying a gap in the market.

"The key growth area in bagged snacks is sharing bags. We've made double-digit gains in this area with Doritos and Red Sky, but the demographic of these consumers tends to be AB, and we believe we can tap into the C1, C2, D and E demographic with a more competitively priced product."

Evans believes Extra Crunchy will be the biggest launch in the bagged snacks category for a very long time. Nevertheless the process of improvement Evans is trying to bring about from good to great is, he says, evolutionary.

"You don't move a £1.5bn business in a 90 degree angle overnight, or unless the business is failing, and PepsiCo is certainly not failing. But I do believe if we want to be more successful, we need transformation."

The promotion of Evans to his new role coincided with a move by PepsiCo Inc to buy up a number of its US bottlers. But the relationship with Britvic, its UK-based bottler, is "a very strong one" and there are no plans in this area. Britvic CEO Paul Moody "has done a fantastic job", he adds.

One iteration of a change in attitude, however, is towards the customer. "Under the leadership of [sales VP] Jason Richards, we're working to transform the relationship with the retailers. A few years ago, we said we didn't want to be number one in the Advantage survey, because the feeling was that meant we weren't negotiating hard enough. Well, we've moved from ninth to fifth place, but we want to be no number one."

Another area of concern for Evans is the environment. His first public outing in his new capacity as president last year was a speech at the Windsor Debate, in which he urged the government to support business efforts to help "decarbonise" the economy.

It's a theme he continues to espouse in our interview. PepsiCo has lowered energy consumption by 12% and water usage by 45%, he claims, and a pilot is now in place to see if Walkers can eliminate water usage ­altogether from the crisp manufacturing process.

"It's a 12 to 18-month project to see if we can extract the water from the potato to meet our water needs. We need to find out if it will cost more to recover the water. Doing this is not easy. But if business doesn't do this, and government doesn't support this, we are not going to get anywhere near the ambitious [environmental] goals it has set, let alone the targets we've set at PepsiCo.

"You can't wait for the cost of a barrel of oil to go to $200. But the scale of capital required demands a creative solution. In my simple world, could the government not forego capital allowance charges instead of building a new nuclear coal station?"

In the meantime, Evans is looking for equally creative solutions to meet its targets on health. Despite achieving a 10% reduction in the salt content of Walkers crisps in 2009 alone and with salt content in its bagged snacks range down 20-55% over the past five years Evans again wants more.

In another pilot, his team is developing a 'designer salt'. "A vast amount of the salt we use is wasted," he explains. "The palate doesn't need that much salt to create the taste fix. So we are looking to alter the crystal structure of salt to create more taste for every gram of salt."

Will PepsiCo's leadership in this field following earlier decisions to lead the way with front-of-pack GDA labelling, to lower sat-fat and salt content, and to advertise only its zero-sugar PepsiMax pay off? Evans believes it will, although equally he hopes the new government will avoid future interference on portion sizes, leaving suppliers like PepsiCo to do the right thing.

Above all, Evans sees it as civic duty to be transparent, contrasting the calorie displays on a visit to a Starbucks in New York ("I was hugely impressed"), with the UK foodservice industry's lacklustre efforts (see p6). "Let the consumer decide based on the facts." At 87-140 calories, he says, a single-serve packet of crisps is "an acceptable snack", and compares "more than favourably" against other snacks such as chocolate bars, muffins, chocolate brownies.

"If the government were to introduce a crude fat tax, I would question the motivation and the likely results. How will it help if a consumer swaps from an 87-calorie packet of crisps to a brownie or muffin containing 65g of saturated fat?"

The PepsiCo pledge

- 50% of savoury snacks to be baked or include positive nutrition* by 2015
- Invest 70% of R&D budget to deliver products defined as healthier** from 2012
- Launch and take to scale new children's lunchbox and breakfast ranges meeting FSA Nutrient Profiling Model by 2010
- Introduce single-serve calorie cap of 160 calories across single-serve savoury snacks without "positive nutrition benefits"
- 10% further reduction of salt on Walkers crisps during 2009, and all crisps and snacks to meet or surpass existing FSA salt-reduction targets by 2012
- 4% cut in sugar level of regular Pepsi by 2012 subject to consumer trials; 65% of carbonated soft drinks can and bottle sales no-sugar by 2015
- Deliver 1.8bn servings of fruit & veg and 1.7bn servings of wholegrain per annum by 2012
- Trial marketing campaigns to transition consumers, who have high per-capita consumption of savoury snacks and full-sugar soft drinks, to healthier alternatives from 2010
- Increase availability of Walkers Baked and Pepsi Max by 25% by 2012 for consumers on the go
- All Pepsi ads to back growth of no-sugar or natural from 2010 60% of total sales volume to be defined as healthier* by 2015
- Work with government and other stakeholders to deliver pledges on portion sizes and availability of healthier products Quaker and Tropicana to donate to breakfast clubs in deprived areas
- Support Change4Life through promoting healthy breakfasts and other activities

* Contain nutritionally significant amounts of fibre, wholegrain, fruits, vegetables or micronutrients
** Meets FSA Nutrient Profiling Model or equivalent international standards

Richard Evans snapshot
Title: President, UK & Ireland
Age: 49
Born: Leamington Spa
Education: 2.1 in business studies from Oxford Polytechnic (Oxford Brookes)
Career: Started out at 3M. Also worked at Trivial Pursuit/Nintendo before joining PepsiCo in a marketing role in 1990. Returned to PepsiCo as commercial VP, Asia, Middle East, Africa, after leaving to set up a Dubai-based dotcom called Returned to the UK in 2007 to run Walkers operation. Promoted to president in 2009
Car: BMW 7-Series
Hobbies: sailing, flying small planes, music (from opera to Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga)