Originally slated as a live pitch competition to take place at Natural Products Expo West, which was cancelled in response to the spread of COVID-19, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay quickly pivoted to host the challenge virtually so that the ten female entrepreneurs competing could still highlight their businesses and potentially access one of three grants at a time when cash has become increasingly important and harder to access.
Given the likely scarcity of investment funds in the near future, the criteria Frito-Lay used to evaluate challenge competitors shines a light on how the CPG giant, and likely other investors that are still active, assesses potential partners and investments.
“The criteria were … something we use ongoing to assess companies at any sort of pitch or challenge or mentoring opportunity for our brands,” and could provide a rubric for entrepreneurs to self-evaluate when they seek funding, guidance or other help, said Ciara Dilley, vice president of marketing with Frito-Lay’s transform brands and portfolio innovation.
She explained to FoodNavigator-USA via webcam the first criterion was how distinctive the brand or product offering was within the competitive landscape and whether there was a “clear tension” that a company was addressing. This includes the story that brands tell to appeal to consumers in a cluttered environment.
The second standard is to have a clear purpose or mission to do good for society. That could be a diversity agenda, giving back to the community, championing sustainability or something else.
The last criterion focuses on the future and whether companies have a clear vision of where their business is going.
Based on this criteria, Dilley said the expert panel of WomanMade Challenge judges selected three winners to take home grants worth $50,000, $30,000 and $20,000.
First place went to Sashee Chandran, founder of the organic tea company Tea Drops. Second place acknowledged Nydia Shipman, co-founder of the plant-based snack bowl manufacturer The Worth Company. Third place was awarded to Kate Flynn, who co-founded Sun & Swell Foods to make healthy, on-the-go snacking more accessible.
Connecting with women shoppers
Frito-Lay’s decision to move forward with the challenge despite Expo West’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic underscores the company’s dedication to supporting female entrepreneurs and fostering diversity, but it also reveals one of the CPG giant’s key strategies for better understanding and connecting with women shoppers.
“The majority of purchases of healthy snacks are either done by women or influenced by women, so it was a business imperative and issue that drove us to say we need to understand women’s needs in this space,” Dilley said.
As Frito-Lay looked closer at the issue, Dilley said, the company realized that many female founders are driving the better-for-you snack space and by working with them PepsiCo could learn from them.
While the WomanMade program brings together PepsiCo’s efforts to support female founders, it is far from the company’s only avenue for supporting entrepreneurs. The company also hosts its Greenhouse incubator program and looks to invest in diverse entrepreneurs up and down its supply chain, Dilley said.