Roger Enrico, PepsiCo Hero in Cola War With Coke, Dies at 71

  • His marketing strategy pressured Coca-Cola to try ‘New Coke’
  • ‘The other guy just blinked,’ Enrico told Pepsi employees

Roger Enrico, who as chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc. used a sponsorship deal with Michael Jackson to nearly pull even in the marketplace with Coca-Cola, has died. He was 71.

He died on June 1, according to the Wall Street Journal, which didn’t identify the source of its information. His death occurred while snorkeling in the Cayman Islands, where he had a residence, the Cayman Compass reported, citing local police.

Prior to leading the Purchase, New York-based company as CEO, Enrico was head of its Pepsi-Cola USA division and oversaw a marketing strategy that positioned the soft-drink maker as “the choice of a new generation." The campaign, beginning in 1983, helped spook Coca-Cola Co. into changing the formula for its market-leading product. The 1985 introduction of "New Coke" is often cited as one of the great marketing blunders of all time.

"After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked," Enrico wrote at the time in a memo to his staff.

“Roger Enrico was, quite simply, one of the most creative marketers of his or any generation,” Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo CEO said June 2 in an e-mailed statement. “He was a risk-taker, never afraid to challenge the status quo or make bold moves to get ahead.”

With PepsiCo for most of his career, Enrico got his start in 1971 as an associate brand manager for Funyuns, an onion-flavor snack, in the company’s Frito-Lay division, according to a 1998 article in Beverage World.

At different times, he led each of PepsiCo’s three major units, Frito-Lay, Pepsi-Cola, and restaurants, which included Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC.

As PepsiCo CEO, Enrico restructured the company to focus on beverages and snacks. He spun off the restaurants into Tricon Global Restaurants Inc., now called Yum! Brands Inc., and engineered a spinoff of the bottling business in 1999. Enrico acquired the fruit-drink maker Tropicana Products Inc. from Seagram Co. In 2000, he announced the $13.4 billion acquisition of Quaker Oats Co., producer of Gatorade, which was completed the following year.

Roger A. Enrico was born Nov. 11, 1944, in Chisholm, Minnesota, according to Marquis Who’s Who. As a teenager he worked at an independent bottling plant washing bottles and putting on labels. Later he sold pots and pans door to door, according to a 1985 profile in the Chicago Tribune.

In 1965, he received a bachelor’s degree in finance from Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

He had an early job at General Mills Inc., served in the U.S. Navy, and then returned to General Mills as assistant brand manager for Wheaties.

At Frito-Lay he moved from Funyuns to Cheetos to marketing director for all the company’s corn snacks. Later, as head of Pepsi-Cola, he persuaded Burger King to switch from selling Coca-Cola to Pepsi in its fast-food chain. By 1985, Pepsi led Coke in retail sales, while Coke held on to its lead with restaurant and vending-machine distribution included.

Enrico was PepsiCo chief from 1996 to 2001. He was chairman of DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. from its inception as a public company in 2004 to 2012.

Enrico’s survivors include his wife, the former Rosemary Margo, and their son, Aaron.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE