Frito-Lay is embroiled in drama amid explosive revelations that the origin story of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – which is the subject of an upcoming film – is false

Flamin hot cheetos
PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have made conflicting statements regarding the origin of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
  • Frito-Lay has made conflicting statements about the origins of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
  • Parent company PepsiCo credits former exec Richard Montañez as one of the people involved.
  • But Frito-Lay told the LA Times they cannot find evidence of Montañez’s work.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The humble origins of Frito-Lay’s Flamin’ Hot Cheetos could be a lie.

Richard Montañez, a motivational speaker, credits himself as the creator of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Montañez has crafted a career built upon the story of how he came up with the idea as a janitor at a California Frito-Lay plant in 1976 after immigrating to the US from Mexico.

Montañez has said in interviews that he put chili powder on a Cheeto and told the CEO of Frito-Lay his idea. The product has since become a one of America’s favorite snacks and CNBC reported Montañez eventually became an executive at PepsiCo, the parent company of Frito-Lay. Actress Eva Longoria is directing a movie based on Richard Montañez’s story.

A post shared by Richard Montanez (@hotcheetosrpm)

But a new Los Angeles Times report claims Montañez did not invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, according to employees at Frito-Lay, and refutes claims made by Montañez.

Lynne Greenfeld, who was a junior snack food professional at Frito-Lay, said she came up with the name “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos,” and created the product beginning in 1989, per the LA Times. The product entered test markets in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Houston starting in 1990.

Employees at Frito-Lay said they could not recall Montañez meeting with company executives to pitch his idea. The LA Times also notes Roger Enrico – the former CEO of Frito-Lay who Montañez claims to have pitched Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to – did not start as chief executive until six months after the products reached test markets.

Frito-Lay, which the LA Times said never publicly refuted Montañez’s claims until recently, told the paper Montañez was not involved in any part of the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos development.

But Frito-Lay did not deny Montañez’s involvement in creating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to NPR, which ran an episode on the product shortly before LA Times story published.

“He was a part of it. Yes. Sure,” a Frito-Lay spokesperson told NPR’s Sarah Aida Gonzalez. Frito-Lay confirmed the existence of a meeting between Montañez and two company executives in California to NPR, but later walked back their claim after “additional facts were brought to light,” Gonzalez said in a tweet.

-Sarah Aida Gonzalez (@GonzalezSarahA) May 17, 2021

Montañez has stood by his story, and said Frito-Lay does not have documentation of his involvement because he was a janitor.

“Nobody was telling me, ‘This is how executives work.’ I wasn’t a supervisor, I was the least of the least,” Montañez told Variety. “I think that might be one of the reasons why they don’t have any documentation on me. Why would they?”

In a May 21 statement to Latin Heat, PepsiCo said they credit the launch and success of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in part to Richard Montañez.

“Richard is an important part of PepsiCo’s history and the success of the company,” the company said. “We regret the confusion that has come from the recent speculation, but most importantly we want Richard to know he is valued and cared for among PepsiCo’s employees and we only wish him happiness and success.”

Frito-Lay and Richard Montañez could not immediately be reached for comment.