The Psychological Secrets Behind Nacho Cheese Doritos


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In 1966, Frito-Lay launched the first tortilla chip brand nationwide. Back then, the salty snack market was dominated by potato chips and pretzels.Now, Doritos are everywhere, led by Nacho Cheese, Cool Ranch, Spicy Nacho, and Salsa Verde flavours. And this year marks the 40th anniversary of Nacho Cheese Doritos, which has become the most popular flavour of them all.

We spoke with Frito-Lay marketing VP Ram Krishnan about the evolution of Doritos and how the chips became so hugely successful.

Frito-Lay has to provide a product experience that you can’t get anywhere else, explained Krishnan. It’s not just the product itself — it’s everything from start to finish.

The bag, for instance, screams bright orange cheese. When you take the product out of the bag, your hand gets all cheesy. After taking a bite, the flavour hits your tongue first, and at the end, it gives you a smooth cheese feel. And, of course, once you’re done, you have to lick the cheese off of your fingers.

“There’s a lot of science that goes into developing the Nacho Cheese flavour,” said Krishnan. “We develop the flavour so that there’s a sequencing involved for the best experience.”

The core target is the 19-year-old kid, perhaps in college and with a job. They’ve always been told what to do.

“It takes them out of the norm,” said Krishnan. “Disengages them from all of the stress that they have, taking them to a different place.”

“That’s what we call a bold immersive experience. It’s what we’re going for when they open the bag of Doritos and take the first bite.”

But there are dangers, especially when you’re trying to build a holistic experience.

“We might take it too far, where it might not resonate with the mainstream,” said Krishnan. “So it’s a fine balance, but we always keep in mind how the consumers feel.”

It’s about staying “cool” in the same way music and fashion have to remain trendy, he said. That means the brand’s products must be constantly reinvented to stay relevant. If you can’t do that, you’re doomed.

Data mining is big for Doritos. The folks at Frito-Lay get data every week on what kind of food consumers are eating, what kind of flavours they’re into, and more.

“We go with the consumers as their tastes change,” said Krishnan. “Talking to consumers is not a one-off thing.”