How Mehmood Khan is Remaking R&D at PepsiCo, with an Emphasis on Sustainability

By Scott Cohen, Co-Founder, Innovation Leader

When you hear that Mehmood Khan oversees global research and development at PepsiCo, it’s hard not to think of the fizzy, caramel-colored beverage that was invented in 1893. (It was originally known — no joke – as “Brad’s Drink.”) But the $63 billion food and beverage giant also owns brands like Quaker Oats, Tropicana, Naked Juice, Sabra Hummus, Fritos, Mountain Dew, and SoBe Lifewater.

Khan, who reports to PepisCo chief executive Indra Nooyi, is an endocrinologist by training. He joined the company in 2007 from the pharma industry, and in the decade since then, the company has been generating more of its revenue from new product innovation — from oatmeal bars to nut-based milks to lower-calorie versions of Mountain Dew and Tropicana orange juice. It has also been dialing up its investment in R&D — by about 45 percent since 2011.

We spoke with Khan about the links between sustainability and innovation; why diversity isn’t only about hiring people who look different; bringing in new skill sets into R&D, like computer modeling; the challenge of measuring progress; and how he’s trying to change thinking in the company’s 30 R&D locations.

“In the past,” Khan told us, “discovery was about something that you discovered in your own lab. In today’s world, discovery is about discovering ideas, no matter where they are.”

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