During a family vacation to southern California, Arch West, a former ad exec and vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, ate tortilla chips from a stand and became convinced they would be the company’s “next big thing.” He returned to work and pitched the idea.
The Doritos people all over the world know and love, and gobble four at a time, almost never happened.
The Doritos Arch West used to seduce his fellow executives, and that would hit store shelves in 1964, were exactly like the ones West tasted in California, just salted tortilla chips — “toasted corn taste” is how they were billed on the packaging.
They sold decently in the Southwest, where people knew that the pointy tip was well suited to scooping up globs of dip.
But the rest of the country didn’t know what to make of them. Doritos sounded Mexican, but they didn’t taste Mexican. This was a problem.
West didn’t give up. Instead, he uttered the word that changed everything. Make Doritos, he said, taste like a “taco.”
As his son Jack West recounts, the Frito-Lay executives chided the fancy New York pitchman for “not knowing the difference between a ‘thing’ and a ‘flavour’.”
But West already knew that the line between things and flavours could be blurred, that technology existed that could impose the flavour of a taco on a fried triangle of corn.
“Of course, you and I know that,” he fired back, “but the rest of the country north of here sure doesn’t. And that’s our market.”
And what a market. The Northeast, the Northwest, the South, and the Southwest — everyone loved taco-flavored Doritos.
They loved them so much that four years later, Frito-Lay blurred the line between thing and flavour once again, this time with Doritos that tasted like nacho cheese.
In 1986, Cool Ranch — a tortilla chip flavored like salad dressing — was born. By 2010, the chip beloved by everyone from toddlers and teenagers to stoners and the infirm was earning Frito-Lay $US5 billion a year.
The Dorito didn’t just predict the future of tortilla chips. It didn’t just predict the future of snack food, either. It predicted the future of all food.
Nothing tastes like what it is anymore. Everything tastes like what we want it to taste like. As food gets blander, we crank out zestiness by the hundreds of tons to make up for it.
It’s happening to blueberries, chicken breast, broccoli, and lettuce, even fennel. Everything is getting blander and simultaneously more seasoned. Everything is becoming like a Dorito.
The birth of Doritos was a watershed moment. Flavour wasn’t up to Mother Nature anymore. Now it was in the hands of the folks in marketing.
Excerpted from “The Dorito Effect” by Mark Schatzker with permission from Simon & Schuster.
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