It’s been 23 years since Carol McCall earned her Ph.D. in food science from UC Davis, but she still refers to her class notes and textbooks from time to time in her professional career. McCall is the global foods research and development director at PepsiCo, and its wholly owned subsidiary Frito-Lay.
“I still use my sensory consumer studies all the time,” McCall explained. “In a business like ours, we’re creating products to delight people, so we design experiences with the consumer in mind. Having that foundational understanding of consumer testing and sensory science still stays with me today in everything I do.”
McCall has worked for PepsiCo in Plano, TX since she graduated from UC Davis in 2000. She continues to stay connected to campus by volunteering as a member of the Leadership Board for the Department of Food Science and Technology. The 23-member board holds two meetings a year and provides guidance to the department about industry trends and needs, as well as advise students as they carve their career path. The board launched a formal mentorship program about five years ago, McCall said, to pair students with board members who work in the food industry.
She has plenty of insight to share. She previously led a product development team for the Lay’s snack brand, even helping with the launch of the cheddar and sour cream flavored Lay’s potato chips years ago, a flavor that had been popular with its Ruffles brand.
“It’s so exciting to create those authentic and meaningful food experiences through flavors that everybody loves,” she said. “It reaches so many people.”
Her work leading a global culinary team for PepsiCo brought her to Phoenix, AZ earlier this year for a special event during the Super Bowl. McCall said the company hosted a Tostitos brand pop-up restaurant, where chefs designed menus using products within the brand line.
“I think we served about 1,600 people in Phoenix leading up to the Super Bowl,” she said. “That was really exciting.”
Sharing her professional knowledge and advising students has been a fulfilling experience, McCall said. An esteemed alumna, she pays it forward by making charitable donations to the university so that more students have access to the same transformative opportunities she had.
“UC Davis gave so much to me, helped me develop as a student and then helped me transition to my first job,” McCall said. “I really enjoy working with the students and hearing what’s going on in the department and how it’s evolved over time, especially with new topics like food waste and sustainability, those are super important topics, and it’s important to PepsiCo as well, so I think it’s helpful to see what research is going on and to see how we can learn from each other.”