On Tuesday, SumOfUs, an international consumer advocacy organization, released a new parody video — in conjunction with Doritos’ annual “Crash the Super Bowl” commercial competition — that calls out Doritos and its parent company, PepsiCo, for use of unsustainable palm oil in Doritos products and the subsequent destruction caused to Southeast Asian rainforests, species and communities.
“Rainforests across Southeast Asia are destroyed every day to make way for massive palm oil plantations,” explains Kaytee Riek, Campaigns Director at SumOfUs, a worldwide movement of over 5.4 million consumers, workers and investors working to hold corporations accountable. “Each year, PepsiCo buys 427,500 tonnes of palm oil. Given the high-profile nature of the Doritos Super Bowl campaign, we’re using the opportunity to educate consumers around the world about PepsiCo’s irresponsible palm oil sourcing policy,” says Riek.
But PepsiCo defends its policy and dismisses the group's messages: "It is no surprise that SumofUs' continual mischaracterizations of our palm oil commitments are patently false and run counter to the positive reception our policies have received from expert organizations in this arena,” the CPG giant told edie this week. "PepsiCo has repeatedly stated that we are absolutely committed to 100 percent sustainable palm oil in 2015 and to zero deforestation in our activities and sourcing.
"This latest public relations stunt, focused on fiction rather than facts, does nothing to foster positive dialogue or affect positive change. We find our policies effective and stand by them."
How can your brand change consumer behavior at scale?
Unpack the latest consumer trends; understand strategies and tactics that drive behavior change; and learn how to craft more compelling communications from leading brand marketers and practitioners at SB’s Brand-Led Culture Change 2023 event — May 22-24 in Minneapolis.
In May, PepsiCo joined a string of consumer packaged goods (CPG) giants — including Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills, Kellogg and Procter & Gamble — in committing to “zero deforestation” palm oil sourcing in its company-owned and -operated activities and supply chain by 2020. While NGOs including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) acknowledged it was a good first step, they found the policy underwhelming, as it lacked “a strong commitment to full traceability, a demand for similar commitments from its suppliers and most importantly, an implementation plan,” UCS’ Calen May Tobin said at the time.
On Wednesday, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) publicly shared a joint communication with UCS, Greenpeace, SumOfUs and the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) that was delivered privately to PepsiCo in July. The letter outlines in specific detail ways in which PepsiCo's current palm oil commitments fall short of the new benchmark set by its peers for responsible palm oil production and procurement. RAN says the issues raised at that time remain unaddressed by PepsiCo.
To date, the company has apparently not taken sufficient action to assuage activists’ concerns: PepsiCo’s newly launched Pepsi True beverage was yanked from Amazon.com in November after being overwhelmed by negative reviews from activists from SumOfUs and RAN, calling out Pepsi for its failure to adopt more responsible palm oil policies that will help end deforestation and modern slavery in Southeast Asia. And over 273,000 people from around the world have signed a SumOfUs petition urging PepsiCo to adopt a more stringent policy.
Meanwhile, “A Cheesy Love Story” is part of a five-figure, international ad buy that will air online in the lead up to the Super Bowl and target Doritos customers on Facebook and Google. Starting this week in the UK, new bus ads will run for two weeks on 6 routes in Reading. The ads aim to pressure employees at PepsiCo’s UK headquarters to reconsider the food giant’s palm oil policy. SumOfUs members in the UK also plan to deliver a petition signed by nearly 300,000 people urging PepsiCo to adopt a global, time-bound, responsible palm oil policy. Nearly 70,000 SumOfUs members in the UK voted to endorse the campaign ahead of its launching, and voted on the winning bus ad design.
The NGOs believe that if companies the size of PepsiCo — one of the largest palm oil purchasers in the world — show producers that they're only interested in conflict-free, sustainable palm oil, rainforest destruction could end quickly. RAN said in an email that it first alerted PepsiCo to the problems in its palm oil supply chain over a year ago, and that its offer to work with the company to find solutions and draft a comprehensive, time-bound, responsible palm oil policy still stands.