By Bruce Horovitz
Q:What's bright orange and fizzes?
A:Pepsi-flavored Cheetos, of course.
Huh? No, you can't buy them in the USA - at least, not yet - but the weirdly flavored combo snack is now being sold in Japan, where almost no flavors are too wacky to mix and match.
The snacks, which hit shelves in Japan last month, will be sold there only for a limited time, says Frito-Lay spokesman Jeff Dahncke. For the moment, at least, there are no plans to bring the chips to the U.S., he says. But clearly, the world's biggest snack food giant is hip to the international food trend that's spread across supermarket shelves: flavor-mashing.
Mixing flavors like Cheetos and Pepsi "speaks to consumers' short attention spans," says Lynn Dornblaser, new products guru at the research firm Mintel. "Consumers all want something absolutely new that's never been seen before." That, after all, may be about the best way to stand out from the estimated 20,000 food and drink products introduced each year in the U.S. alone.
There's a food-industry term for how consumers respond to product mashes like Pepsi and Cheetos: mouth surprise. "The mouth doesn't anticipate the combo, which actually makes it more pleasurable to the brain," says food scientist Steven Witherly, author ofWhy Humans Like Junk Food: The Inside Story on Why You Like Your Favorite Foods. "If something looks like a Cheeto but tastes like a Pepsi, it wakes up the brain."
A product review for Pepsi-flavored Cheetos was posted Thursday onThe Impulsive Buyblog. It says that these Cheetos actually fizz in the mouth.
"The first sensation, which I did not expect, was a very acidic bite," says the reviewer. "It tries to capture the citrus notes of Pepsi, but it's over the top. Too lemony. The sweeter cola flavor is there, but it's subtler and overpowered by the intense citrus."
But you don't need to go to Japan for weird flavor combos. Over the past 18 months or so, Taco Bell has mashed three different flavored Doritos into its Taco shells. And Oreo keeps spinning out all kinds of odd Oreo flavor combos, including the most recent, Rainbow Sherbet Ice Cream Oreos - plopped, mercifully, into vanilla (not chocolate) Oreos. (In Japan, it sells Green Tea Oreos.)
In the evolving world of social media posts, tweets and snaps, it's all about products finding ways to garner attention, says Dornblaser. "There's something to be said about products that elicit an 'ew' response," she says. That is, if a product has a reasonable gross-out factor, there's also a reasonable chance that someone who tries it will post it on their Facebook page. Which is all the product makers really want, anyway.
But Dornblaser says she's not nearly bold enough to eat a bag of Pepsi-flavored Cheetos. Then, again, she says, "I'd eat a handful."