Episode 266: Managing the Dynamic Gatorade Brand with Mike Del Pozzo

March 6 , 2024  |  By Brent Williams

Share this via:

This week on the Be Epic podcast, Brent engages in a dynamic discussion with Mike Del Pozzo, President and General Manager of Gatorade at PepsiCo. During the episode they dive into the challenge of maintaining engagement with core and light Gatorade consumers, the importance of product timing, and strategies for PepsiCo's beverage and snack segments. Mike shares his personal journey from starting as a PepsiCo intern to leading Gatorade. He highlights the value of internships, and the benefits of having a diverse professional background. They also touch on the unique business environment in Northwest Arkansas and the comprehensive view necessary for successful brand management in the competitive CPG and retail industries.

Podcast Episode 

Episode Transcript

Mike Del Pozzo  0:00  
For us, one of the biggest problems to solve is, you know, our Gatorade. Our core Gatorade users are still using Gatorade. But sometimes there are light users are picking something else up for a second purchase or throughout different parts of the day. So those day parts are becoming increasingly important across, particularly for PepsiCo snacking and beverages and within Gatorade, that's how we think about it.

Brent Williams  0:21  
Welcome to the be epic podcast, brought to you by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. I'm your host, Brent Williams. Together, we'll explore the dynamic landscape of business and uncover the strategies, insights and stories that drive business today.

Well, today, I have with me, Mike Del Pozzo. Mike is president and general manager of Gatorade, Mike, thanks for being here today.

Mike Del Pozzo  0:54  
No, thanks for having me. It's awesome to be back in Arkansas.

Brent Williams  0:57  
Well, we're glad to have you back. And you've got a little bit of a history in Arkansas in Northwest Arkansas. Today, I want to talk about the brand that you get the opportunity to lead some of what you see coming in the CPG and retail industry and some of the cool experiences that you get leading this brand. But but to begin, love to hear a little bit about your background, how did you land at you know, what's your history look like? And how do you land as president and GM of Gatorade? 

Mike Del Pozzo  1:26  
Yeah, well, thanks. It's, uh, I mean, honestly, it's, it's pretty, I feel very fortunate one, you know, like many probably, that are listening to this. I grew up playing sports, and I was an athlete, not quite as good as some of these student athletes I got to meet with this morning here at the university. But, you know, the brand was some very personal to me, and, and so I came into PepsiCo, which is the parent company of Gatorade, right out of school, actually, as an intern, and I got to intern on Gatorade, that was about 23 years ago. And I remember saying, oh, I want to get I want to go full time on Gatorade. And it was kind of the the crown jewel at the company then and that was my, my goal. And if I'd ever known that 23 years later, I'd be sitting here with you talking about it, it was, I wouldn't have believed it. So over the 23 years at PepsiCo, I've worked across a lot of different parts of the business, I've been on the customer side, the supply chain side, the marketing side, have moved around about nine times throughout the country, all within the US. And then I took over the Gatorade job almost two years ago. So I serve as the president of Gatorade. So I have responsibility for everything from what we say make move, market and sell. So where we make our products and manufacturing sites, moving the product on go to market, the brand side, which is the fun part of the business people like to talk about, which is all the marketing of Gatorade, our sports, our athletes, our lead partners. And then obviously, all of our customer kind of relationships I've managed with with Gatorade as well. So over the years, that's been kind of kind of hit and I, I, you know, came into this one the last two years. 

Brent Williams  3:07  
Well, a couple of things out of, out of your story leading up to this point that that are interesting to me. internship you mentioned, which is something at the Walton College we're extremely focused on. And we're extremely fortunate to have a concentration of business around us that our students can engage in that way. But clearly, the internship made a difference in your life. 

Mike Del Pozzo  3:29  
Big time. And, you know, we were obviously with your support able to talk to some students today. And they asked some really good questions. Actually, I was sitting there like, wow, I'm impressed. I don't know that I would have been able to come up with those years ago, around, you know, internships and opportunities. And I did tell them I mean, frankly, you know, you've got a really special unique situation here in Northwest Arkansas. And as you mentioned, I've been here I've lived in Univer. I've lived in Northwest Arkansas twice. My wife went to university here. My daughter was born in Bentonville. And I tell the students now, you know, utilize the the unique situation you're in, you've got obviously big companies out here, big CPGs you know, PepsiCo, obviously, I'd rather everybody come to us, but there's a lot of other opportunities out here with, you know, with what Walmart's brought down here. And obviously, we have a team on the ground here a big team that sits in Northwest Arkansas and the internships I think what they you know, what they do is they really provide an opportunity not only for us to get to know students in what they're capable of, but the students an opportunity to check out the company. Is this something I want to be a part of? Do I believe in their values? Do I believe in what they stand for? Do I believe they've got growth potential? And so I kind of see it that way. And we try and come into those things you know, really wide open in fact, that told somebody today we're not as narrow on functions, even you might come in with a supply chain. You guys have an unbelievable supply chain program here at the university. But we also want you to get a breadth of experience. You may come in and do that but we want to you learn how to interact with sales and marketing and, you know, all the brand side and that allows people then to say, hey, maybe I maybe I don't want to be supply chain, maybe I want to do something else. And so that's what those internships provide.

Yeah, I think they're critically important to get to know companies to understand what you like, what you don't like. And and then to apply, you know, I think that I, personally, if I learn something, I need to apply it for that, like really kind of set in and internships offer that ability.

Yeah, for sure. 

Brent Williams  5:29  
You know, you also said that you've had the opportunity, you've moved, you know, several times, but you've moved functionally, which I assume set you up pretty well to run a business like Gatorade. 

Mike Del Pozzo  5:40  
Yeah, it. I joke about it a bit, because I think some of it was accidental. And now we're actually really trying to teach that and develop within PepsiCo, I, I came in, you know, really, in what we call business development. At the time, it was kind of like the centerpiece of supply chain and a little bit of kind of getting product from point A to point B, and, you know, understanding kind of how to do that. And then they said, Hey, you want to move to Northwest Arkansas, and I was a young guy living in Chicago working, just getting started at PepsiCo. And I said, absolutely, I knew what, what was going on out here. This was almost 20 years ago. And I came out into a sales role. And while I was in sales, I was actually on the Frito Lay business. And then they moved me over to Gatorade and in part of our Pepsi business, in a different function. And so over the years, those moves were, you know, they weren't necessarily always promotions, they were new experiences either cross functional into a different part of the business or a different brand. And so, as I told some of the students today, it's time flies. I mean, I think people look and say, how do you spend 20 plus years at the same company and you know, I'm in my mid 40s, so it's, for me, that's been most of my life. And the reality is, if you find the right company that you love, and you love what you do, and don't get me wrong, there's everybody's got days that they say, boy, you know, I don't love it, but you time flies, you're like, holy cow. I've been in all these different businesses and, and I've built, you know, my career on diverse experiences. So now I actually hire for that I try and build what I call a GM mindset, somebody that can come in and learn lots of functions. So when they talk to a customer, like Walmart down here, we're not just looking for people to talk sales, they need to talk supply chain, and go to market and finance. And so that's kind of what we're looking for now. 

Brent Williams  7:28  
You know, you mentioned a couple of stints in Northwest Arkansas, anything, you know, in particular that stands out in those experiences that you learned that that you've kind of taken forward into your future roles? 

Mike Del Pozzo  7:40  
Well, I think the one is, what I love about being out here actually is the competitive nature, we're you know, just like anybody, we want to be the best CPG. So you see a lot of you get great visibility for great companies out here. And so it always puts you on you see something or like, you know, whether your boss says, hey, you know why is so and so doing that you're like, oh, my gosh, we gotta be better. So I actually love that. I almost think about it, like a bunch of elite teams down here, right? All work. I mean, this is one of the, you know, biggest and best customers obviously. So you've got your, your great talent down here. So that's the same for all of our competitive CPG groups. So I think that's one it makes us better. I think the other is, I've always loved when you you know, when you work in down here on a business this size, the decisions you make have a material impact. And I like that we we joke sometimes we say you come out here and you blow up or blow up you know, it's like it's it's an opportunity to really make a name for yourself. And you know, you learn a lot so I made stupid decisions too when I came out here that I thought were right on the business that I'm going to try something and maybe it didn't work and when you make a bad decision on business that size within PepsiCo, even it's like, oh my gosh, I gotta I gotta learn from that. What did I do wrong? Maybe that business wasn't right for the time maybe it was, you know, the the go to market was different than it needed to be whatever it is. It's so big that you learn from it and you optimize so there's just so much opportunity that comes with being on the customer this size. 

Brent Williams  9:07  
Yeah, there sure is. I love what you said about like, you know, the the talent that comes through this region through various CPG companies and some developed here, some coming in from other places. It's a pretty unique place in that way. 

Mike Del Pozzo  9:20  
For sure. Yeah. 

Brent Williams  9:21  
Well, I'd love to talk a little bit about Gatorade because what an engaging brand, it's a dynamic brand and seems to fit you in some ways, right? You bring the energy and you're bringing an inner you to an energetic brand. I'd love to hear a little bit about the history of the brand and anything you're excited about going forward. 

Mike Del Pozzo  9:40  
Yeah, it's uh, I mean, it's a special story. I don't know. I mean, probably people. You know, you have a little bit of context for Gatorade being you know, invented through this idea of kind of solving a problem of you know, hydration but it next year will be 60 years from when the brand was was developed. 1965 on the sideline of Florida, Florida Gators, and what was so special about it, it was a we were talking about inventorship it was an inventor that worked at the university there, Dr. Robert Cade. And you can there's books out there first and thirst and a bunch of others. You can read on it. It's pretty amazing. You know, he basically had, you know, what you would assume is you know, they call it the swamp out there. It's it's hot market. These players were getting dehydrated. And Dr. Cade was working in the university in the science and r&d lab and created the basically electrolyte formula that's now in Gatorade and obviously a proprietary Gatorade electrolyte blend. He invented it and they got it on the sideline, they called it Gatorade for the Florida Gators. And I believe after the first year using it, they went on to win a national championship. And then there's even more history you can follow where they from there, he shared that formula with the Kansas City Chiefs, and then they won a championship and then it kind of goes on from there. And you know, that the Cade family is still actively involved in philanthropy out there. And I stay close with his daughter, Phoebe Cade. So it's real, it's personal to me. I mean, when I took the job two years ago, the first thing I wanted to do is understand the history of the brand. And it's a balance, right? Because I don't want us to, like, you know, rest on the laurels of 1965, sports drink hydration, we've got to reinvent ourselves. So the brand itself was in probably one of the biggest transformations ever, portfolio transformation, brand transformation. But what I try and do is strike a balance of protecting the history, the heritage of the brand, and thinking about what we need to move forward. And that's why you'll you know, we'll talk you see some of the portfolio expansion, but it's such a fun story out there, it's part of who we are, it's part of the heritage. And then honestly, you know, that is what I think has us is such a relevant brand within obviously the sidelines of University of Arkansas, most colleges and universities, all 32 NFL sidelines, all major league baseball dugouts, all NBA sidelines, you know, the brand is synonymous with sports, with athletes and with competition, and we intend to keep it that way.

Brent Williams  12:13  
You mentioned that, you know, you're always trying to strike that balance, I guess, between the history and, and continuing to innovate and, and, you know, it's in a fairly established category, right, the beverage category, how do you go about innovating with with that historical brand in that type of category?

Mike Del Pozzo  12:35  
Yeah. It starts with a consumer, you know, we talk about, we talk about it as the athlete more, but I use the term athlete, loosely now. I talked about the modern athlete, because I think the core athlete, there's a need for Gatorade, how they used it hydrated either before, during, after whatever occasion, you know, sweat, occasion, etc. The modern athlete is more of what I'd call this 24 wellness hydration like they want they want to they want this product or some of the functional benefits of the product all day. And we have a portfolio for all parts of that day. And that's the goal. And so, what we think about is, you know, I think about the brand Gatorade zero for example, we didn't have a zero sugar Gatorade product till 2018. It was the first liquid refresh LRB called liquid refreshment beverage to a billion dollars, it's now going to be about a $2 billion brand by itself. Because not everybody wants they don't always want sugar. A lot of athletes do want sugar and your body actually needs sugar and carbohydrates for those those harder workout occasions. But we introduced zero, we introduced a product called Gator light. Just in the last year and a half. It's a rapid rehydration product. It's already almost a half a billion dollars. It's the market leader. And that is a unique benefit that brings 2x electrolyte blend plus potassium, magnesium, other things that the body needs for like a rapid quick recovery. We introduced that. Last year we introduced a product called fast twitch which is athletic energy Gatorade's first foray into caffeine, 200 milligrams of caffeine, Gatorade, electrolytes, B vitamins, in partnership with the NFL, and that was a very big launch for us because the NFL didn't have a caffeinated product that they had on the sideline anywhere. So that was a big deal. This year, as we sit today actually, this week, we launched Gatorade water, which is an alkaline base water, with electrolytes. And then you see this go on and you think about the portfolio. It looks a lot different than it used to. The other thing we're really focused on, as you talked about how to you innovate in a developed category is function and form. And so we're really focused on this beyond the bottle agenda. You know, we invented Gatorade was a powder when it started. So I kind of tell people like we were the OG of powders. But now people are bringing it. There's lots of new players in this space. And it's either because people want to create their own like I want to control my own functional ingredients. or I care about the planet more than I probably used to, I didn't know how much plastic I was, I was wasting. And so I want to be more cognizant of that. Or there's a component of convenience and portability, hey, I bring our tablets or our powders when I go play golf or when I go travel. So I know I've got that. So this whole category, you know, when you're 65 share of a category that's this big, you have a responsibility to disrupt yourself or somebody else will disrupt you. And that's what we're doing.

Brent Williams  15:27  
What a great point, you know, when when you lead in a category that you have the responsibility to push that category forward? 

Mike Del Pozzo  15:27  
Yeah, for sure. 

Brent Williams  15:27  
Well, you know, and maybe, you know, taking that a little bit more broad. So, just talk about, you know, I think you said at the beginning of how do you innovate in a category, you mentioned the consumer, what are some ways you see the consumer evolving? What does that mean, in your opinion for the industry CPG. And for retail, you know, so I blend those two together?

Mike Del Pozzo  16:02  
Well, two two kind of areas, I'd say, one, the macros on the consumer, and that's what's happening in the environment right now. And that is, you know, frankly, whether it's inflation, whether it's trends in you know, you know, people trying to think differently about how they engage in brands throughout the day, whether it's, there's these macros of the environment that we're all navigating that are important, you know, and that has a material impact on all food and beverage, and certainly Gatorade and PepsiCo being, you know, the largest food and beverage company has a big responsibility, make sure we've got the right kind of solutions for that. And that means pack price architecture. So you've got great value on packaging needed. That means your route, you're you're thinking about making sure all your products are either sustainable, biodegradable, and you've got a, you know, a real strong sustainability agenda. And that means, so the consumer is driving that all that so we talked about it as macros, but it really is because the consumers are choosing to engage in brands and companies differently. So that's something we take a big responsibility of, more near. And I think, though, is this consumer behavior stuff, which is, you know, whether it's health and wellness would be a big one, right? And it doesn't necessarily mean what it used to it's, oh, I'm cutting calories, not it's not necessarily it. It's a lot of people. In fact, if you look at some soft drink businesses, real sugar is actually doing better, like people are like, no, it's artificials. Or it's, everybody's different. So you can't, you can't pivot your brand one way, you've got to really listen to the consumer and say, how do I solve that need? And so, I health and wellness is certainly a big part of it that we're focused on and making sure we've got the portfolio that people need and people want. I think the other is this idea of convenience. People are on the go more than ever you think about COVID people were at home they were working out they were exercising on their peloton, whatever. So the peloton sales go way up and our product was way up because people were at home. Now they're on the go. And you would think okay, well, then you would have more purchases? Well, the reality is they've got more choices. So they're thinking about things throughout the day, differently. So for us, one of the biggest problems to solve is, you know, our Gatorade, our core Gatorade, users are still using Gatorade. But sometimes there are light users are picking something else up for a second purchase or throughout different parts of the day. So those day parts are becoming increasingly important across, particularly for PepsiCo snacking, and beverages and within Gatorade, that's how we think about it. And we think about building this kind of competitive moat around our business to make sure that we've got solutions for all those day parts, but the consumers changing, you know, so rapidly. The other thing, I think, youth is changing a lot, you know, I've got two daughters that are, you know, 11 and nine and things that I drank as a kid or consumed they're not, they're just not touching it. And so I listen to them a lot. I mean, I we do a lot of great marketing studies. Now, I always tell my marketers like, okay, I hear what you say, I'm gonna go talk to a bunch of kids in the neighborhood and see what they say. So I think it's just being aware. And lastly, I'd say competitive. These are competitive categories, they're, they're high growth categories that you know, a lot of people come into. And so when you're a big company like ours, you know, claims are important. Being aware of kind of competitors and not you know, reacting but understanding what consumer need they're meeting that you're not meeting and and how do you go meet that. And that's a big part of we focus on,

Brent Williams  19:22  
Yeah, you know, when you talk about that younger consumer, I'm the dad of two daughters as well. So that resonates with me. How is your strategy for marketing shifting? Is it shifting in any ways, the way you're engaging through content? Experiences? 

Mike Del Pozzo  19:40  
Yeah, I'd say a couple things. You know, one, it's really how you reach that consumer is different as you know, I mean, my girls like, I mean, I don't even know if know how to turn the TV on, you know, I mean, they want to watch. We've got, you know, TVs right in front of them. They want to watch their shows on iPads. They want to engage, you know, socially differently. So how we reach the consumer, I think is very different. You know, I sat through a session with the NBA a couple weeks ago on this very thing with all the tech and streaming giants there and talking about content, how people want to view sports, it's different, it really is. And the same is on our brands. We still advertise on live sports, because it's one that you know, I still feel like is going to be very relevant for a long time now how people engage might be different, but they're going to engage live, they're not going to watch a game later and see what happened. 

Brent Williams  20:26  

Mike Del Pozzo  20:26  
So we still do that, socially digitally, is you know, I mean, I know it goes without saying, but I think how we do it is more important, the intentionality targeting is more important, otherwise, it's wasted media dollars. So being smart about who we're connecting with and when is, is it's harder, it's a lot of work on the brand, it's making sure you're authentic in how you in how you communicate, you know, we, we sign a lot of athletes. And so when we sign an athlete, like we're very, very close to why are we doing this? Do they mean, does it? Do they? Is there a storytelling opportunity? Is there authentic opportunity to talk about this partnership? And that's it. And I mean, we feel like the other thing somebody told me once recently that I thought it's stuck with me as coaches used to be your coaches in sports, like if you were playing a sport, and a coach said, hey, drink this, eat this study this you did it? 

Brent Williams  21:21  

Mike Del Pozzo  21:21  
Coaches now or like social media influencers or and it's scary, right. 

Brent Williams  21:26  

Mike Del Pozzo  21:27  
You know, I think they told me something like, you know, 60% of the content that's now viewed is from non experts even on so they're just so how we help message that is different too.

Brent Williams  21:38  
Yeah, well, you know, as I've gotten to know you a little bit today, I thought, and I'm a big sports fan, like you get some really cool sports experiences, it sounds like, give us a little bit of flavor for that. Because, you know, you mentioned you mentioned NFL, NBA, college sports, I'm sure I'm just kind of touching the tip of the iceberg there, any any cool experiences that have been really fun for you?

Mike Del Pozzo  22:03  
It's a fun business. I, you know, I joke sometimes because the the job comes with great, fun events, the last couple of weeks from Super Bowl to the NBA All Star game, and when we're there, we engage with our partners and, you know, then my boss reminds me, you know, hey, you gotta get back and run the P&L Today so, you know, it's a balance of both those things, but it's somebody that's been, you know, just an avid fan of all sports, you know, I've been, I've been able to go to, you know, a dozen Super Bowls, and gotten to engage with some of the athletes that you know, I idolized over the years and I always enjoy that what I enjoy most about it is and it's funny, the time they give us I always at first was like, oh, is it because they think we're gonna you know, we've got dollars to spend or is it really it's it's more these these athletes want to talk about the brand the experiences they had the fun they had and for and for me that's that's pretty special. We we do a lot of shoots, I go out to our shoots, those are always fun. I went out and did one we did a spot last year called don't go missing with Damian Lillard who's you know, just was named the MVP of the NBA All Star game, awesome athlete, great Gatorade supporter, and we had fun with it. And I got to see you know, how these these guys are in their element. And, you know, doing those is fun. And frankly, you know, really anything that I think gets us closer to our our core athletes is something I really enjoy doing. You know, we talk about being always everywhere, I'd love to have every I'm competitive just like anybody else. I, you know, I hate when I see a brand that's not ours on a sideline or, you know, in somebody's hand, and we figure out how do we get it and work to get better?

Brent Williams  23:33  
Love it. Well, no, sort of shift back personal. You've had a great career thus far. You're nowhere near finished. But you've had a great career thus far with a great company. If you think about our students, and you're to put yourself back in the shoes of a college senior, you know about to go into that first job and build a career. Any is there anything you've learned that you say like, oh, this really helps me now. And this is something I would share?

Mike Del Pozzo  24:18  
Yeah, you know, I just talked to a few about this this morning. I know it's a little cliche, but I really believe there's, I say for two reasons. One, I believe it and two, I think we've gotten away from this a little bit when I think about students and it's this relationship component. You know, a lot of people want to talk about their resume, which is important, the experiences, their grades, all the things they did in school, I think that's really important. But when I sit across from somebody and look at bringing people into PepsiCo, whatever, it's it truly is about the experiences they've gotten. And then frankly, building and leveraging those relationships when they come in, and I think that, you know, that's the one thing we talked about it here what an unbelievable opportunity with all the companies based out here. At a university that's got, you know, great credibility in the community with the CPG industry. So I think, you know, when you're coming into a company, and I'll use myself as an example, I, I let the reason I got opportunities is through just naturally building new relate, I'd ask somebody, go get coffee, I was the Frito Lay, you know, junior marketer, and I'd go talk to the Pepsi guy and say, hey, can we grab coffee let me buy you a coffee? Or can we go out in a store together and walk a store, I did that constantly, and one I learned from it, and then I built relationships, and that opened up so many doors. And so the, these businesses are still heavy relationship opportunities. And I think I teach my daughters now I bring them to business dinners with me a lot. I had them sit through a business dinner with the owner of the Chicago Bulls like a month ago, and it was a two hour dinner. And I said, you're gonna sit here and listen to us talk, and we're gonna engage you. But like, I worry that that kind of stuff has kind of went away, you know, and I think for, for us, that's a big one, I'd tell students that build those relationships. The other is, you know, getting, you know, a multitude of experiences, like really not just coming in with like, you know, one particular skill set, but you know, developing yourself with different experiences that round you out as a person is an opportunity. I think that that really goes kind of sometimes missing when you come into these conversations. And then lastly, I think, you know, this authenticity is another big one we talked about this morning a bit like being yourself and talking about who you are, I think that's a luxury like back, I felt like 20 years ago, I would just be trying to get a job and be like, oh, no, I'm gonna work as hard as I can all day. Now, it really is about what's important to you, you know, what motivates you. And I think bringing that to these conversations for students is super important as well.

Brent Williams  26:45  
Well Mike, I couldn't agree more the relationship component. And, you know, it's one of the one of the things that I think about, you know, our typical undergraduate student, at least traditional undergraduate student, you know, the transformation that happens during this these college years, and you're in the classroom, but I'm always encouraging them, I think, like you are get as many experiences as you can build as many relationships as you can do that authentically. So that, you know, you get value out of it, and the other person gets value out of it. And you know, you just never know where that leads to.

Mike Del Pozzo  27:19  
Yeah. 100%. And typically, to your point, you don't I mean, it, it typically opens up a door that you didn't even see comin, right? Because you, you know, you put yourself out there. And I think that's, you know, that's something we're trying to do do more of as we bring people in is put them in even uncomfortable situations, see how they do and typically they end up finding, you know, something they didn't realize they'd be that good at. 

Brent Williams  27:43  
Well, Mike, thank you for being engaged with the Walton College. We're really appreciative of you, the partnership and excited to see what you do with the brand in the future. 

Mike Del Pozzo  27:52  
No, thanks for having me. This is a real honor. Like I said, coming back here and, you know, think about when I first came here to work in Northwest Arkansas, if I thought I'd be coming back here to do this podcast with you and be running the Gatorade business is a dream and I think that's, you know, a lot of what this this is about, how do we build more of those through the partnership with the University and PepsiCo and certainly happy to bring any, any folks in as they come over.

Brent Williams  28:18  
On behalf of the Walton College. Thank you for joining us for this captivating conversation. To stay connected and never miss an episode. Simply search for be epic on your preferred podcast service.