PepsiCo Teams Up With TikTok’s Keith Lee to Support ‘Restaurant Royalty’ Black-Owned Businesses

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

Pepsi’s Dig In platform, created in 2020 to drive access, awareness and business growth for Black-owned restaurants, launched the second iteration of its Restaurant Royalty program this week, which recognizes the country’s best Black-owned restaurants through a nationwide contest. The company is appealing to foodies on a massive scale this year by partnering with TikTok food reviewer Keith Lee, offering prize incentives and travel experiences for diners nominating their favorite restaurants, and providing an upskill training program for the businesses determined to be “Restaurant Royals.”

“We’re spending a little bit more of our effort and investment on the awareness bucket now,” said Scott Finlow, CMO of PepsiCo Global Foodservice. “The step up this year is we’ve signed Keith Lee as a partner to help achieve the goals we have—to create more awareness and drive more traffic to these local Black-owned restaurants.” We spoke with Finlow about the program’s next generation.

Chief Marketer: How has the Dig In platform evolved since you launched it?

Scott Finlow, CMO of PepsiCo Global Foodservice: When we started the Pepsi Dig In platform in support of local Black-owned restaurants, it was part of a broader PepsiCo commitment, the Racial Equality Journey. We made a five-year commitment for $50 million to support local Black-owned restaurants. The second thing that really hasn’t changed is the three strategic pillars of that platform, which were grounded in the biggest opportunities/problems to solve for the community. We wanted to create access; we wanted to help them grow their businesses.

The third thing is we wanted to build more awareness of these restaurants, their food, the chefs and the experience as well. We’re spending a little bit more of our effort and investment on the awareness bucket now. We’ve put together the signature moment called Pepsi Dig In Day, which we’ve now done three times. That’s a day where we rally consumers to go and support these local Black-owned restaurants. We’ve got three years of increasing results on that. We have also have a partnership with Mary J. Blige and her Strength of a Woman festival that happens every year in Atlanta. We utilized that moment to really celebrate Pepsi Dig In and create more awareness of it.

CM: What’s different this year?

SF: A moment we put together last year is Restaurant Royalty, where we’re enlisting the foodies that are most passionate about their favorite restaurants to nominate and celebrate them. The step up this year is we’ve signed Keith Lee as a partner to help create more awareness and drive more traffic to these local Black-owned restaurants. We now have Keith getting the message out on TikTok to his nearly 13 million followers. What Keith does is he goes and reviews local restaurants, and his reviews can have a massive impact on those restaurants given the scale of his audience.

CM: And the cash incentives for consumers are new?

SF: There are 10 thousand-dollar prizes. There are things like a trip to the Super Bowl for consumers as an incentive. For the restauranteurs themselves, there is a residency at MGM in Vegas, With that, you can have a huge impact above and beyond the traffic that the program itself is moving to them.

CM: What’s your strategy for cutting through the social media clutter?

SF: Focus and simplicity is important. The Pepsi Dig in platform is still grounded in delivering on the objectives that we started with, and we make sure that internally we stay true to that. In the case of Restaurant Royalty, to come back to Keith, we found someone who is not just an influencer with a huge audience, but an influencer with a huge audience who is so purposeful about how he uses his voice and that audience to celebrate and build awareness around these local restaurants.

CM: What other marketing initiatives does Pepsi have coming down the pike?

SF: As it relates to the Pepsi Dig In platform, you’re going to see Pepsi Dig In Day in August and see us go much bigger on that together with the James Beard Foundation [food hall] at Pier 57. We’re super excited about the new Pepsi rebranding and how that’s going to come to life, and we’ve got a lot of fun things planned to make that an awesome experience for consumers and our customers. You’ll start seeing that in Q3/Q4.

And then there are a couple of things we’ve done recently: launching the Starry brand, which is our new lemon lime brand in foodservice. We play a huge role together with our customers in building awareness and trial of that new brand. One example is how we work with our partners at Panera to help them with some of their objectives around their Unlimited Sip Club with Kyle Kuzma.

And then on the food side, with our partners at Papa John’s we just launched the Doritos Cool Ranch Papadia, which is the latest branded culinary innovation, and we’ve been brought folks like DJ Khaled and Kris Jenner to that.


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