A masterstroke? Pepsi-flavored Cheetos could spell innovative salt reduction

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Maybe PepsiCo wanted to create a new taste preference and trend to eventually reduce the salt in the product, says Leatherhead innovation manager
Maybe PepsiCo wanted to create a new taste preference and trend to eventually reduce the salt in the product, says Leatherhead innovation manager

Related tags: Salt reduction, Salt levels, Indra nooyi, Preference, Pepsico

Frito-Lay’s limited edition Pepsi-flavored Cheetos in Japan aren’t anything ground-breaking, but the new taste profile could be used as a platform to reduce salt levels, an innovation expert says.

The snack titan recently launched the limited edition packs in Japan and said there were no plans to take the product beyond this Asian market or shelve it permanently.

But Steve Osborn, business innovation manager at Leatherhead Food Research, said PepsiCo could use this product to leverage salt reduction in its Frito-Lay portfolio.

“Taste is an interesting thing because you have a preference that is built up over time. With snacks, they are known as very savory and salty… But if you go down the sweeter and citrusy flavored route, maybe you could reduce the salt,” ​Osborn told BakeryandSnacks.com.

“Are they trying to challenge the existing savory dominance in the snacks market to reduce salt levels?”​ he asked. If so, this could be a very interesting and clever move, he said.

“Maybe they were thinking – let’s try and create a new taste preference and trend to eventually reduce the salt in the product.”

Developing new taste preferences could be an alternative to step-change sodium reduction technologies
Developing new taste preferences could be an alternative to step-change sodium reduction technologies

The alternative to a step-change in salt reduction technologies

Over the past decade, Osborn said there has been incremental and covert salt reduction, particularly in the savory snacks market. But if salt levels continue to decrease, he said manufacturers will face taste, processing and textural issues. “It will require a step-change in technology terms,”​ he said.

However, Osborn said there is an alternative – to create different taste preferences so there are no expectations to be matched.

For example, he said Frito-Lay’s move to develop a citric Pepsi-flavored Cheetos snack could open up opportunities to lower the salt levels in a product naturally because consumers are not expecting salt flavors.

It’s probably just a marketing move…

However, when it comes to levels of innovation – which Osborn said were fairly low given it was just a flavor development – he said PepsiCo had likely developed the product as part of a ploy to strengthen market presence.

“I think it’s probably more driven by the marketing and coverage the product is going to get.”

He said use of two very strong and competitive brands and a well-established distribution system had enabled the company to do something “a little bit unique”.

“That said, it is interesting they have introduced it into the Japanese market given it is such a progressive and innovative market with different taste profiles and preferences to the West,” ​he said.

Osborn said that while changing a flavor cannot be classified as true innovation, if PepsiCo was to take the product to create a new category and taste preference - that was interesting and innovative.

Strength in the Power of One banner? 

PepsiCo wants to 'snackify' drinks and 'drinkify' snacks
PepsiCo wants to 'snackify' drinks and 'drinkify' snacks

PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi clearly outlined a strategy to blur the lines between snacks and drinks and operate under a 'Power of One' banner – a move this new product clearly ties into – and a move Osborn thinks is fairly clever.

“Pepsi are very well-established and at the end of the day people do have brand loyalties. So making a strong and clear link is probably a good opportunity to tap into people’s brand loyalty.”

The move to develop a Pepsi branded Frito-Lay product is also clever, he said, in that it doesn’t jeopardize the rest of the Pepsi drinks portfolio; “it doesn’t compete with itself”.

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