How PepsiCo addressed food insecurity among children amid pandemic

Many kids rely on school-funded meals. But what if schools close?

How PepsiCo addressed food insecurity among children amid pandemic

Campaign: Meals to You
Company: PepsiCo
Duration: April-August 2020

Food insecurity among children was a major issue in the U.S. before the COVID-19 crisis. But the pandemic added gasoline to the fire. To help address the problem, PepsiCo Foundation’s Food for Good program partnered with the USDA, McLane Global and Baylor University to launch Meals to You, a program to deliver meals to food insecure children across the country.

PepsiCo ran a pilot program of Meals to You in the summer of 2019. Twenty-two million kids in the U.S. rely on school-funded meals; the initiative was designed to help fill the gap during the summer period when schools closed.

School started up again in September, but in spring of 2020, with COVID-19 raging in communities across the U.S., most public school systems remained closed to in-person learning. Along with its public and private partners, PepsiCo relaunched Meals to You, this time with the specific intention of meeting “the needs of those hardest to reach, which are children in rural areas throughout the U.S.,” said Jon Banner, EVP of PepsiCo global communications and president of the PepsiCo Foundation. Baylor University provided the technology to determine communities and residents where the need was greatest. 

The initial goal was to deliver 1 million shelf-stable meals a week. While that’s a big number, it doesn’t come close to meeting the need.

“By some estimates as many as one in four children in the U.S. could face hunger this year,” Banner said.

The meal kits began shipping in April. Each kit included a two-week supply of shelf-stable, individually packaged items, including cereal bowls, granola bars, juice and shelf-stable milk. Working through supply chain and logistical issues “was a real concerted effort,” Banner said, one that included input from partners as well as the knowledge and expertise of local nonprofits and food banks. 

Local media outlets were pitched to spread the word among communities that the resource was coming. 

By May, Meals to You blew past its initial goal, ramping up to deliver 5 million meals a week instead of 1 million. In total, the program delivered 38 million meals in 41 states and Puerto Rico. 

The earned media push also paid off, generating 93 stories. While these included national outlets, such as Cheddar and ABC, the majority were in local outlets across 15 states. What’s more, the program continues to generate coverage as a model for future initiatives.

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