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The Important Role of Research and Development

Have you ever wondered how a Cheetos snack ends up looking the way it does? You might not be aware of this, but a whole team of engineers and food scientists are hard at work behind the scenes at Frito-Lay in our Research and Development (R&D) department, helping to solve the many challenges of making the snacks you've come to love.

My name is Dr. Mohan Rao, and I'm a senior director in Global Snacks R&D and senior fellow for all of PepsiCo's Global R&D. PepsiCo is the parent company for Frito-Lay. I'm also an adjunct professor at Texas A&M University in their engineering department. I am a chemical engineer by training and have spent the last 29 years working at PepsiCo and Frito-Lay.

You might be surprised to know the amount of science that goes into making our snacks. Because consumer tastes are constantly changing, we are constantly looking for ways to meet those changing tastes. PepsiCo’s Performance with Purpose initiative has clearly outlined goals for transforming our product portfolio. Specifically we are committed to reducing certain nutrients – like sugar, sodium and saturated fat – while adding more positive nutrition like whole grains, protein and fiber. At Frito-Lay we are looking to develop more baked snacks, reduce fat per serving, lower sodium, and include more vegetables, protein and whole grains in our products. Of course, all of these goals require a great deal of R&D. That means we've had to rethink the technology process for making many of our snacks. But no matter what we change, one thing must always remain constant, and that is our snacks have to be the highest quality and deliver the best taste.

As a senior research fellow, my job is to solve difficult research, development and manufacturing problems. I’ve been given the freedom by senior leadership of R&D to spend part of my time anticipating future challenges for the business and then exploring ways to overcome them. One example of this was with the development of Whole Grain Cheetos snacks. As a result of the growing popularity of whole grain foods, I thought it was important to see how we could produce a version of our iconic Cheetos snacks, made with whole grains instead of corn meal. The key would be to maintain the distinctive Cheetos taste, shape and crunch that consumers know and love.

To make Cheetos we use extruders that are similar to the pasta machines you may have in your home kitchen, but on a much larger scale. Whole grain doughs are thicker and stickier, causing the machines to become clogged. My colleague, Dr. Jorge Morales, and I studied the problem and after extensive analysis and testing, developed a fix. This newly patented process will allow Frito-Lay to manufacture whole grain Cheetos in the future and will also open the door for us to create new whole grain snacks. I believe this has been a very good breakthrough in science and engineering.

I think my two favorite parts of this job are solving problems and nurturing talent. My intellectual curiosity draws me to the toughest challenges. And there's nothing more satisfying than finding a solution that helps the business and makes our consumers happy.

As a professor, I truly enjoy teaching others and nurturing the next generation of R&D experts at Frito-Lay. I'm proud to do my part in keeping this great business strong and ready to innovate well into the future.

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