Crafting Equitable and Sustainable Supply Chains with Whitney Kakos of Keurig Dr Pepper

July 9, 2024

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Whitney Kakos is the Director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP).  She leads the development of appropriate policies, strategies and partnerships for KDP to play a proactive role in promoting equitable and sustainable supply chains across its business.  With strong roots at the intersection of sustainability and coffee, first at UK-based Cafédirect and then Keurig Dr Pepper, she now leads KDP’s efforts to balance risk management with deeper, long-term impact work within the diverse supply chains under the KDP umbrella.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today, Whitney Kakos. She’s the Director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper. Whitney, welcome to the Impact Podcast.

Whitney Kakos: Thank you so much. I’m so pleased to be here.

John: Hey, you’re the beauty of technology, you’re sitting in Massachusetts today and I’m in Fresno, California, but it’s still, it still feels like we’re in a room together having a conversation, which is the beauty of Zoom and all these wonderful technologies and things of that such. And I just really thank you for your time today. And before we get going and talking about all the important, impactful work that your team and you are doing in sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper. I’d like to ask you a little bit about you. Where’d you grow up, Whitney? And how’d you get on this wonderful and important journey that you’re on?

Whitney: Yeah, thanks, John. I appreciate that question. I grew up along the Eastern seaboard. So I am a Georgia girl by birth. I spent a lot of years in New England. I spent some years in old England. So I’m married to an Englishman, studied over there, had my first job in the coffee space over there, and then came back here to the Boston area. So it’s been a great journey for this field of sustainability. Like many people, my ages was a windy journey. If you were to ask my parents, they probably would have said, I’m a little worried about her jobs and how is she going to end up. But what’s kind of cool about it is when you get to my age and look back on it, it all kind of makes sense. Right.

John: It makes sense.

Whitney: You know, yeah.

John: I get that. Talk a little bit about when you were growing up and spent, Eastern Seabird and then eventually well, like you said, New England, then eventually old England, where was your first exposure to sustainability? Was it as a young child? Was it as a teenager? Was it as an adult? When does sustainability become and the subjects around sustainability become a thing in your life?

Whitney: Yeah. Great question. I would say I have been, and still am a generalist by nature. So I like to learn and know a lot about a lot of different things. And so I liked to study different things. I did my undergrad at a place where you could, the curriculum was very open. And it was there that I started to get into environmental studies, also language and culture. And then I would also say I pair that with wanting to really believe in whatever work I was doing. So it’s really important to me, whatever hours I was spending dedicated to something that I really wanted to believe in it. So My first job out of college was actually as a high school teacher. I did that for a few years, moved into the NGO space in international development. The focus on Latin America, Spanish was a theme for me early on. I did a master’s in environmental policy and thought I was headed into environmental consultancy. And then, as often happens in life, a recruiter in the UK, which is where I was at the time, pointed me to this small mission-driven coffee company. called Cafe Direct that’s still going. If you’re ever in London, look them up.

John: I will.

Whitney: That kind of set me off on this path of coffee and supply chains. And I would just say, you know how I said, like looking back on it, it all kind of makes sense. Supply chains are fascinating space because they’re all different. Well, there are themes that apply to many of them, every time you look under the hood of a different supply chain, you’re learning something new. And they’re very global, they’re so unique. And so that generalist in me, I think, just loves this space.

John: That’s wonderful. My first exposure to supply chain and sustainability, it was so embarrassing, so to speak. One of my good friends and really became a mentor on this exact topic is Jim Gowan. Jim was the chief supply, but he still is the chief supply chain officer at Verizon. And he was then named the first chief sustainability officer, holds both, still does. And I want to say it was 2011 or 12. I’m in his office in New Jersey. And I’m like, why? I don’t get it. And he literally took the time to give me a masterclass on, this is probably the most intelligent nexus that exist out there in terms of supply chain and sustainability? And I’m going to want you to share your version of a masterclass on that in a second.

Today, when you wake up and have to go through your day at Keurig Dr Pepper, as Director of Supply Chain Sustainability, the fun part about sustainability is it could almost, if we were to do an equal sign after it, in truth, you could probably put the word resiliency after the word sustainability. What I’ve learned after doing 2,000 or so of these interviews with what I call now the greatest fraternity on the planet, wonderful people like you that are really making the world a better place with the brands that you represent, is that sustainability can be read very narrowly and deep or very wide and broad. Director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper, explain your day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year. Is it a very broad meaning of sustainability or a narrow one in your eyes?

Whitney: Yeah, great question. I think the answer varies by company. So of course, I’ll speak from my experience here. We are lucky to have a team that can be segmented across different pieces. So for me, supply chain sustainability and what I’m working on every day, I like to say is two sides of a coin. So on the one side, you have risk management or looking at topics like legal compliance and human rights protections and kind of basic fundamental environmental protections and how are those playing out in our company’s upstream supply chain and how can we manage risk and also support our suppliers to do that.

Flip side of that coin is a really fun space where I get to look at what are these really unique opportunities where we can have a positive impact, again, in that upstream supply chain. So my piece of the puzzle is very much upstream, what do we buy? How do we buy it? What are the dynamics of those relationships and the business models at play? And like I was saying earlier, each one’s unique. So every time you open the box of a particular supply chain, you’re dealing with a different set of those dynamics. Sometimes that risk management piece gets really elevated because that’s the primary topic. Sometimes you get to play in these other spaces and you can sort of dial up and down as needed and appropriate, but it’s never, never boring.

John: And for our listeners and viewers who want to understand who Keurig Dr Pepper is, first of all, to find Whitney and all her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing at Keurig Dr Pepper, you can go to It will be in the show notes for everybody to pull that up. But some of, just some of the iconic, as you said to me off air earlier before we taped this episode. Incredibly iconic brands that you get to represent, Whitney, are Keurig Brewers, K-Cups, Green Mountain Coffee, Snapple, 7-Up, Hawaiian Punch, Stewart’s Root Beer, IBC Root Beer, Nantucket Nectars, RC Cola, Sunkist, and My Favorite Canada Dry. This is the zero sugar, zero sugar and no caffeine. This is my favorite drink of choice when I feel like a soda or something of that nature. But I mean, over 11 billion in sales, over 27,000 employees. Keurig Dr Pepper is a big, big brand.

Whitney: Yes, indeed. So a leading beverage brand in North America. We actually have 125, a little over 125 owned, licensed, or partner brands. So for some of them, we are doing their manufacturing and it’s still their brand. But when you put that whole family together, it’s massive. And there’s some other hidden ones I would add to your very good list, by the way. Yoohoo.

John: Yoohoo. Oh my gosh.

Whitney: Yeah. The Mott’s apple juice and applesauce products. We also own Mott’s. So that’s another one that surprised us.

John: Mott’s. These are brands. I’m 61. I grew up with these brands and they still exist and they were just wonderful. I mean, every household growing up had Mott’s and Yoohoo and these are just great brands. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit more about coffee though. Coffee. So I turn on, with regards to supply chain, I don’t know much. So I want you to unpack a little bit about the climate change and the threats to the supply chain when it comes to coffee. I turn on the Bloomberg News in the morning and it’s in the news a lot that the supply chain of coffee and other commodities such as the cocoa bean and chocolate and things of that such.

Whitney: Yes.

John: Explain the nexus between climate change and the threats on the supply chain that you have to be concerned about at Keurig Dr Pepper.

Whitney: Yeah. Well, as you were pointing to, John, you can’t work in any agricultural supply chain. And when you’re in food and beverages, it’s agricultural supply chains. You can’t touch any of those without engaging very deeply in this topic of climate change. And it really comes down to the medium or longer term, sometimes even in the short term. You want to secure the supply of this raw material that is the basis of your business. That matters to the farmers who grow that crop and that matters equally to us. And another distinction I like to make is there’s a lot of, sort of headlines about your cup of coffee could go extinct. And it’s never that black and white with topics like this. It’s a lot more nuanced, but the truth is that climate change is making life very challenging for coffee farmers and other farmers.

And it’s also about quality. We want to buy quality coffee and we want to buy quality coffee into the future and coffee from different origins with different flavor profiles and that’s becoming really challenging and there’s a statistic that I find really interesting in the coffee space that researchers believe that the land suitable to grow coffee and I should probably give a little bit of background on just what coffee growing looks like in the world it’s it’s grown around the equator generally so in the tropics, you often at higher elevations. So some buzzwords that I’m sure some of your listeners will know, Arabica coffee, most common, sort of known for higher quality, wonderful taste, is often grown at higher altitudes than Robusta, different varietal. And as the world overall is getting warmer, to grow that coffee, you have to go kind of higher and higher up in elevation for Arabica, especially.

So that the start I was referring to is that the land suitable for growing coffee is projected to reduce by half by 2050. Meanwhile, global demand for coffee is increasing and meant to double by 2050. So when you put those two trends together, there is your security of supply issue. Yeah, it’s very real. So that’s the challenge. And I, people ask me sometimes. What are the biggest issues facing coffee? Yeah. The ability to adapt to climate change is one. And then the other is just profitability, making sure that the farmers at the beginning of your supply chain can stay profitable and want to keep farming and are able to stay on their farms and make a living. So when you put those two together, those are the big challenges. And so when we think about resilient supply chains and coffee, those are those issues that we’re really digging into.

John: So interesting. I think we learned during the COVID period and post-COVID, that we took so much for granted. And all of a sudden when supply chains, even outside of coffee started failing us and we would show up for our favorite brand in a store or even drug store and see it didn’t exist. It’s a jolt to the system.

Whitney: It’s an eye-opener.

John: It’s an eye-opener. And we know what nobody, I don’t find anybody, friends or relatives or acquaintances that I know that likes change. They like their dance when they like them, they like their routine. And so that’s a daunting problem that you’re challenged with. So where do you begin that journey when demand is going to double in that period, now in 2050, and production could be cut as much as 50% or at least be impacted up to 50%? where do you begin on that journey?

Whitney: Yeah. I would frame this up possibly with this, supply chain sustainability triangle we like to use to approach really any supply chain. And I would say, first and foremost, on the bottom of the triangle, we focus on responsible sourcing. So that’s a bit more in that risk management space that I was mentioning to you before, because coffee equally is a supply chain where there are some very real challenges. Child labor, forced labor, these structural issues really do exist. And so we work to buy our coffee in a way that is committed to responsible sourcing and recognizes those challenges. And so so one starting point for us has been to commit to purchasing our coffee through certification and verification programs that are looking at that issue at origin and helping us.

John: The highest nail, the biggest issue out of, and when it comes to responsible sourcing,

Whitney: It’s a great question. I would say it does vary by origin depends on the origin. And there are certain countries that have really stronger, legal frameworks and enforcement of law. And, Brazil is a great example that you may see in the news often associated with forced labor because they have a really great enforcement system and inspectors that are going out to firms and identifying issues and working to resolve them. And because those issues get identified and talked about, they often get put in the spotlight when actually they are very organized about it and, are due credit for that, where other origins may may not have as strong of that. That government institution so it’s an interesting one but I would say it varies by origin, labor is a major issue for sure and then some origins where there’s more hired labor you get into more migrant labor flows and things like that. Other smaller coffee sectors are more family labor. And so then you get into, possible child labor situations, but it’s an interesting one and an important one for coffee.

John: But is another challenge though, let’s say they’re being the farmers that you’re working with in a certain region are being very responsible with regards to there’s no forced labor. But what I found in the field that I work in, when I travel the world and see the labor conditions with partners that I work with, is that now almost everyone has become ubiquitous to have access to the wonderful technologies that we have here in the United States, such as a big screen television, and then access because of Starlink and other wonderful connectivity sources, then they get access to channels, CNN, and all the other type of wonderful channels as well. Is there also a point where, although the labor might be responsible, that they start also looking at other issues in terms of conditions, working conditions, so wages. And does that also have to be part of your gentle ballet balancing act of how to make sure the farmer stays profitable and responsible at the same time and is also able to produce what you need to create your great products?

Whitney: Yes. You’re touching on a lot of great issues in there. so I want to make sure I circle back to them all. I guess first, in coffee scenarios where there’s hired labor, often that labor might be migratory. So it sort of follows the harvest and comes into the season. And so this is an issue that for many years in coffee was very ignored. There was a lot of talk about farmers, but not a lot of talk about farm workers. So this is a really important one for us that we have been investing in. And so I would call out this one investment we’re really proud of called Las Manos del Cafe. So the hands of coffee, really the pickers of that coffee. And it’s through a collaboration with one of our key trading partners. So we buy our coffee off of traders.

We’re not contracting directly with growers, for example. And through this trader, RGC, we’re investing in programs to support hired labor workers within specific coffee cooperatives in Colombia. And it’s looking at the bigger picture and saying, how do you provide services for these workers that can help professionalize what they do on the farm and recognize the fact that they are critical to the quality of the coffee? When you pick those coffee cherries and how they’re treated after picking is super important to what ends up being the flavor in the cup. So how do you recognize that? And then how do you give them support that they might be lacking, whether that’s different types of health and medical services? childcare services, all these things that kind of surround the worker and help them have this dignity in their work and security in their own lives. So that’s one of the investments we’ve been making over the past few years and find it really impactful for these hired labor situations. You also, on the flip side, have these family farms where it’s a much smaller piece of land.

So that’s another aspect of the coffee sector I would share, that most coffee is grown on smallholder farms. So we’re talking, an acre maybe. And it’s very small. Often families then divide their land among their children, so it actually gets smaller over time. And coffee is a cash crop to them, so it may make up all or a very significant part of their income for the entire year. So when I was talking about that triangle, we talked about responsible sourcing. One of the other sides of that triangle is livelihoods. So we are looking at what is the role we can play to help improve the incomes of the farmers at the beginning of our supply chain. So we’re doing some piloting of some projects right now that look at. where we sit in the supply chain, how can we tweak our purchasing practices?

And is it multi-year commitments or volume commitments, things that we can control? How do those impact the income at the beginning of the supply chain? And then pairing that with another hot topic in coffee, which is called renovation. And what that means is pulling out old trees, putting in new trees that are perhaps more suitable to the environment, the climate, and those new trees will produce more coffee. But the catch of this is that they won’t actually produce coffee for about three to five years, depending on the varietal. So farmers are very hesitant to take out old trees because there’s going to be a loss. So these pilots I was talking about are also funding renovation because really that is the intervention. at origin that can move the needle and move those participating farmers into a different set of economics that can work for them. So that’s the livelihoods piece of the triangle.

John: For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Whitney Kekos with us today. She’s the Director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Keurig Dr Pepper. To find Whitney and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in supply chain and sustainability, please go to Talk a little bit about Whitney, the terminology of regenerative agriculture. What does that mean when it comes to the supply chain of the products that you need to create the great coffees that you guys have under your brands?

Whitney: Regenerative agriculture is a really big buzzword right now. I think again, I was saying you can’t deal with agricultural supply chains and not talk about climate change. It’s kind of the same, I would say for regenerative agriculture, it’s a really hot topic. And I think it is a really hot topic because it, it can really capture people’s hearts and minds because it’s sort of broader than organic, which is, another term we’re all used to from this space in agriculture. And we set a goal, a public goal around supporting regenerative agriculture on 250,000 acres of land by 2030. And that goal really grew out of us becoming this company of KDP five years ago and saying, OK, we kind of know the space in coffee. We have been doing this work with coffee farmers for many years and calling it climate smart agriculture, water smart agriculture. Regenerative agriculture kind of covers those things. And then as we became KDP, looking across, say, the apple supply chain for moths that I was talking about, or corn that goes into the carbonated beverages, that term of regenerative agriculture and that concept really could go across them all. So that’s why we became interested in it. And it’s important to define it. So I will do that.

John: That’s what I’m really excited to hear your definition of.

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Whitney: Yeah, our definition is outcomes-based. So it’s looking at what are the outcomes we want to have, whether it’s a coffee farm, an apple farm, or row crops like corn. So our definition is it’s a localized and holistic approach to agriculture and land management that focuses on four outcomes. Mitigating climate change is one. It’s definitely not the only one. People tend to really zero in on that. Increasing soil health. is a second supporting resilient landscape. So back to this idea of resiliency and then improving farmer livelihoods because you can’t do the rest if the farm is not profitable. So it’s focused on those four outcomes. And the way we are tackling those outcomes is by setting out a menu of metrics, really, that we’re looking for.

And they have to be tailored to the particular context of the farm. So across this menu of metrics we’ve selected underneath that definition, there will be certain ones that really resonate in a coffee landscape, others that resonate in apple, others that resonate in corn. So for anybody interested to go deeper on that, we have a lot of information on the website you mentioned. Our methodology is public, which is something we really believe in. When you have a public goal. it can be easy to sort of report numbers and not share much about the how or what that number really means. And we really take a firm stand on, that should be public too. So the whole methodology behind it is public too.

John: And it’s on your website. It’s also, I assume you touch on these very important issues with regards to your definition of regenerative agriculture in your sustainability report.

Whitney: We do.

John: Which comes out in June of this year.

Whitney: It does, yes. Please watch out for it. There’ll be some good info on the regenerative ag work and the coffee work that I was talking about before in there.

John: And those sustainability reports live in perpetuity on your website. So all the information is there. As part of, I think one of the common themes I keep seeing among great leaders like you and great brands like Keurig Dr Pepper is the issue in the leaning into radical transparency, just putting it out there. And that’s more and more becoming the trend and it just seems as though, listen, nobody is claiming to be perfect anywhere. And I think that’s just a false goal, but as we know, sustainability is a journey. There’s no finish line and just being better every day is sort of, I think there’s the shared goal for all of us.

Whitney: Yeah. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think we work hard to be as transparent as we can. I also think regulation is driving the bus here in this area. There’s a lot of new regulation coming out of the EU. So if your company is subject to that regulation, you’re really paying attention to this, but also the SEC and another. other areas. So it is…

John: Let’s talk about that. You bring up a great, great point, the issue of regulation. Regulation can be seen as a real, how do we say it right, genesis for good. And some people look at regulation or government as overbearing. Talk a little bit about where regulation plays a role here and what’s your role with regards to the regulatory, since you have a worldwide brand, how do you interrelate with the regulatory bodies? And one thing that worries me a little bit, and I want to hear your opinion on, there’s a patch for a quilt now of proposed legislations coming around the world. Is there going to be a time that those regulations are harmonized for the benefit of everybody?

Whitney: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I know that my colleagues who deal with the packaging space for our company, are very much deeply engaged in the topic of different states and different recycling definitions and what’s acceptable and regulation versus federal. So that is a massive topic and not one that I engage with every day. On my piece of the puzzle, the regulatory drive is really more on disclosures around human rights. So Canada, for example, passed a forced labor and child labor bill in the last year that is requiring companies to disclose what are their efforts around due diligence and, you know, different sort of angles on that topic. And that has to be publicly posted and updated each year. So that’s a new one, a little bit akin to the state of California’s Transparency and Supply Chains Act that’s been around for a while. And then there’s new regulation in the EU on deforestation.

So that’s the biggest one I would say recently causing waves in my world that goes up the supply chain to the forest, to the fields, coffee, cocoa, any of these raw materials that are linked to deforestation. And it’s a double-edged sword, just as you were alluding to John, it can cause a lot of work and a lot of hoops to jump through that sometimes can feel you know, is that the point? We’re spending so much time on that. We’re not actually getting busy doing the impact we want to have. At the same time, it also moves things along in a way that can move really slowly. So I see both sides of that. I definitely see both sides of that.

John: With regards to the word resilience, as I shared earlier, I just always feel that sustainability, whereas 15 or 18 years ago or 17 years ago when I started this podcast, let’s just say, when people heard the word sustainability, they went to the C-suite and meant, we have to spend more money. This is just the why? And now sustainability, A, when done correctly, not only means potentially saving money and making the company more profitable, more efficient, but more importantly, it makes the organization more resilient. Talk a little bit about sustainability and resilience of the coffee supply chain and how they work hand in hand as interchangeable, really, terminologies.

Whitney: Yeah, I think one key aspect to bring in is timeframes. So really one of the biggest kind of concepts here is the longer term perspective. So when you think about resilience in a supply chain, you’re looking at over the longer term, is this supply chain going to be able to sustain itself and to be profitable? And lots of in the private sector are looking at sort of quarterly timeframes, quarterly timeframes. And that’s tricky. And we have to marry up from a sustainability perspective, this longer term piece of the puzzle. So to give an example in coffee where longer term thinking is coming in in our sustainability work is about agricultural research. So coffee is fascinating because it’s one of the most understudied crops from a varietals point of view. And so one of the key partnerships we have within our coffee sustainability portfolio is with an organization called World Coffee Research.

Highly recommend your listeners Google them, look them up. We were a founding member way back in 2012, and their objective is to boost the genetic variety of coffee in the world. So it’s for bringing into the hands of farmers new varietals of the coffee plant that they can, put onto their farms that are climate adapted, that will boost their yield, that will be resistant to disease. So when you’re looking at mitigating climate change, having a resilient landscape, looking at profitability of the farmer, the impact of the actual tree, the varietal is so important. And so but this research takes time. So that’s where that time frame point comes in. It takes years of research, especially when you’re talking about perennial crops, that are tree plants that are going to be in the ground for a while. It’s not this sort of annual harvesting. So that can be a tougher case to make to invest in this longer-term research. But it’s so critical to get that information to advance, the greater thinking around coffee as a plant. So World Coffee Research is one of the best examples that I’d like to pull out for this.

John: Well, you shared earlier also longer-term thinking is what you have to convince the farmers of doing when they’re also switching out to the new, you know. So again, it seems like a consistent theme. Let’s talk a little bit about partnerships. What I’ve seen more and more is a movement away from the iconic, how do we just call them? The Bill Gates’s, the Mark Zuckerberg’s, the Elon Musk’s, and they’re all great. The Sarah Blakely’s, all great entrepreneurs in their own right and have done great things that have changed the world for the better. But it just seems like brands are more and more to create the greatest impact, in this shift from a linear to circular economy to create the biggest impact when it comes to sustainability and practices, partnerships and collaborations are becoming much more regularized and highlighted and normalized. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength to be able to collaborate. Talk a little bit about what that means at Keurig Dr Pepper.

Whitney: Yeah, happy to. Partnerships are critical. One of the coolest things, if I may say, about my company is that they really embrace partnerships across the entire business. So if you think about the Keurig system, it’s not just Keurig-owned brands that are coming through that Keurig system. It’s partner brands. And when you think about the cold drink side of our business, there’s partnering going on, on the bottling. And so we’re an organization that is very partner-centric in lots of different ways. And in my space… that is incredibly important. So we, for coffee, for example, we sit several tiers away from origin. So like I mentioned before, we’re buying through traders, there are other links in that chain. So we need partners who are located on the ground who are really in the know about what those issues are, be that, be they some of our traders who have those origin operations, be they NGOs.

We really work with a whole spectrum of partners. I mentioned World Coffee Research already. That’s one that is really focused on this global structural enabling environment of coffee genetic material and getting it out there. There are other partners, that brings scale. I mean, that’s the other, that’s the other thing. So one I would mention here is Root Capital. So they are an organization we’ve been working with for over 20 years, which is just amazing from the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters days through to now. And Root Capital looks at this critical role played by cooperatives. So in some origins, coffee co-ops are very common and they’re organizing these individual small holder growers into a bigger body and they really see the kind of important lever that a co-op brings to accessing a much larger amount of individual farmers. So that partnership has evolved over years, looking at what the critical issues are. So when it started in its earlier days, there was this awful disease called coffee leaf rust, or La Roya, and it was just decimating coffee.

It’s sort of, fungus that kind of moves through coffee fields as this dust and it it just was incredibly impactful in awful ways and really reduced harvests and trees need to be renovated, pulled out, replaced. So we kicked off work with them on coffee leaf rust in that era. And how do you reach individual farmers at a much bigger scale through working with co-ops? When COVID hit, we worked with them and through them to help cooperatives adapt to COVID. And how do you keep the coffee supply chain moving when, this pandemic is causing the whole world to grind to a halt. And then now our work with them is focused on climate change adaptation. So just what I was saying, these big issues. So Root Capital is a partnership we value so, so much. And there’s more from there. It’s how you have to operate. And they’re really, really valuable.

John: You’re the director of supply chain sustainability. How many other sustainability divisions approximately, we don’t have to be exact, do you have at Keurig Dr Pepper? And what’s your interrelationship with all of your colleagues in sustainability?

Whitney: Yeah, great question. I think at every company, this looks a bit different. So for us, we divide the sustainability work into a few different pillars. So supply chain is one. That’s the piece that I lead. And we have another pillar around environment that’s looking at both our owned operations. So what’s going on at our plants? We have around 30 plants in North America. So what’s going on with waste, energy, water at all of those plants? And then that pillar is also looking at climate. So we have science-based target. We’re looking at refreshing that target. So all of that sits under that environment pillar. We also have a packaging team that’s working on packaging, and then we have health and well-being. So that’s looking at this other angle of when you look across our products, how are you thinking about consumers? What do they care about? How do we market? What are the ingredients? All of that. So that’s kind of how we divide the world for sustainability at KDP.

John: That makes a lot of sense. Talk a little bit about one of the biggest trends or buzzwords today is AI. Well, how is AI, when we go back to the original delta you talked about, double the demand by 2050, 50% of the crop expected by 2050. Is AI able to help you in your efforts of predictive analytics of the future of climate in the regions that you need to source your coffee from and other supply chain opportunities from?

Whitney: Yeah, it’s a really great question. And I think this is one that we in every company are grappling with. The impacts of AI will be massive across so many areas. And I would say for supply chain and for these topics we’ve been talking about today, to be honest with you, the writing has been on the wall for a while, John. So the climate challenges, we are seeing the changes that I was talking about. We have known these were coming. The research was clear and we don’t need AI to tell us that. So for my little piece of the puzzle, I’m going about trying to tackle those without leaning too much there, but I’m sure there will be other. kind of implications that ripple through that I haven’t thought about yet.

John: I mean, I’m much older than you, but you’re still old enough to remember a mere 18 years ago, Inconvenient Truth came out and so many detractors said, oh, just a bunch of hooey. And this is just, and my gosh, talk about, talking about an analog version of predictive analytics. It was all there for us right there. And I’ll tell you what, it’s happening. Talk a little bit about, since sustainability doesn’t have a distinct finish line and it’s an ongoing journey, how do you, when you think about great performers, people who perform really well and are leaders in their profession.

And I always love to look at the Michael Jordan version of this. Michael Jordan, even when he had his detractors, he would forcibly create a chip on his shoulder to get himself out of bed and to get up for the competition. Since you don’t have a win-loss at the end of every game or every game in the scoreboard to look at, how do you motivate yourself and what excites you about? 2024, 2025 and beyond in terms of the progress that you’re making. So you can look at your own scoreboard and say, we’re winning. We’re making progress. And although this is a journey without a scoreboard, an official scoreboard, we’re doing well here at Keurig Dr Pepper, and I’m really proud of what we’re doing.

Whitney: Yeah, well I think I would be remiss to not mention a big announcement that has happened for us very recently that is called K rounds. And our new alta brewer that, that comes with k rounds. So if you haven’t heard of this k rounds is a plastic free and aluminum free new pod format so there is no packaging to it and it is created by compressing coffee with a plant-based coating And so this year we’ll be beta testing this new concept and it’s so exciting. It’s so, so exciting. And one of the things that makes me most excited about it is that you can hold in your hand this K round and see and touch the coffee. So I feel like it’s this amazing opportunity to bring the focus back to the coffee, off the packaging and onto the coffee so that all of those topics we’ve been talking about today can become more front and center to the conversation about what’s in your cup. So it’s really exciting. It makes me very proud.

John: That’s wonderful. So is there a link that you could share with us that we could put in the show notes of today’s show? on the K rounds that listeners and viewers could have. And when will they be able to hold the coffee in their hands without any more packaging? Is that, when is that coming out on a commercial basis?

Whitney: Yes. Yes. We’re still working on that. So the beta testing is going to happen later this year in the fall. So depending on how that goes, we’ll expand, expand out from there. So TBD, and I’ll definitely share, share some information with your listeners so they can find out more.

John: I take it though, you’ve had already had the benefit to hold this beta in your hand and taste the coffee. Give us a little bit of a preview from your own perspective.

Whitney: Yeah, it’s kind of visually stunning, to just hold them in your hand. And another aspect of it is that they’ll come in different formats that allows you to have an espresso or to a drip coffee. So there’s also an opening up of the format of the coffee that we didn’t have access to before because we were constrained by the cup itself. So it’s really inspiring. it’s really inspiring. And like I said, I think it can bring the focus back to coffee.

John: I love it. And that leaves us at a great, very good point. This podcast is truly been a journey. There’s no finish line here, thankfully. And we’re far from done. And what we find is brands love to come back and share their continued journey. So what I like to say to you is not only are you invited back, but when that, when that specifically launches, I’d love you to come back and we’ll just do a show just in and around that. product itself because that’s such a groundbreaking important announcement to show and you can bring the product on the air and we can have a lot of fun with it and we can go more into it when that happens.

Whitney: Thank you for the invitation. Sounds fantastic.

John: All right. I hope your communications team are happy about it as well. But anyway, Whitney, thank you again. Not only for your time today sharing the journey and sustainability and supply chain at Keurig Dr Pepper, but I just want to say thank you for all the really important work you’re doing. For our listeners and viewers to find Whitney Kakols and her and her colleagues at Keurig Dr Pepper, please go to Whitney, thank you again. This was wonderful. And thank you and your colleagues at Keurig Dr Pepper for making the world a better place.

Whitney: Thanks so much, John. Thanks for having me.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit

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K-Rounds plastic-free pods and the Keurig Alta brewer: