Pepsi Blog Causes Tempest in a Bunsen Burner

PepsiCo has roiled the scientific media community by launching a sponsored blog on Scienceblogs.com, a collection of blogs from scientists and scholars run by the media company behind SEED magazine.

The PepsiCo blog, called Food Frontiers, is clearly marked as “brought to you by PepsiCo,” and features, according to its introductory posts, “a wide range of experts on how the company is developing products rooted in rigorous, science-based nutrition standards to offer consumers more wholesome and enjoyable foods and beverages.”

Regardless of the company's stated intent, the notion of having PepsiCo’s R&D team discuss science and the food industry’s role in addressing global public health challenges brought out a bunch of negative reactions from the site’s bloggers and readers, many of whom raised questions about the overall issue of sponsored content and its role in helping a site maintain other, more agnostic lines of inquiry.

For some of the bloggers, Food Frontiers was clearly a step too far:

“There won't be a scrap of honest opinion expressed over there that isn't filtered and vetted by cautious editors before making it online, and it will all toe the Pepsi line,” wrote University of Minnesota professor PZ Myers. “It's going to be boring. It's going to blur the line between blog content and advertising….So don't say hello to them at all — don't even bother to read them.”

That’s a far cry from PepsiCo’s desired outcome, according to spokesman Jeff Dahncke, who pointed out that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has made contributing to global nutrition goals a company priority.

“We believe one way to achieve meaningful progress in addressing global health challenges is for food and beverage companies to have an open dialogue with the scientific and health community,” he said. “We've partnered with ScienceBlogs so we can listen, share ideas, and work together.” 

 Dahncke added that the decision to sponsor and run the blog came from internal discussions “about our belief that by joining forces with partners across many sectors, we can make far greater impact addressing global nutrition needs than by working alone.”

In the wake of some of the outcry, the site editors tried to create a more elaborate description of the purpose for the blog, as well as a strong disclaimer, making it clear that all content is “written by PepsiCo’s scientists or scientists invited by PepsiCo and/or ScienceBlogs.”

But they also made it clear that things should have been handled differently.

“This isn't the first time we've hosted sponsored blogs–recent ones included GE, Shell, and Invitrogen–but it is the first time we've received this level of criticism about it,” Evan Lerner, the site’s editor, wrote in a note to the online community. “Frankly, we at ScienceBlogs did not do a good job of communicating what these sponsored blogs are for, give a proper explanation of what our relationship to Food Frontiers was going to be, or even properly explain what Food Frontiers is.”