Why do packaged foods have the flavors they do? Years of market research, focus groups, and food engineering is the short answer. Food innovation has long been a recession-proof growth industry, always trying to meet the tastes and needs of new consumers—or in other words, expanding market share.
While the Michael Pollans of food advocacy have emphasized food that’s local and organically produced, companies like PepsiCo have worked on broader goals: making enough food for a growing population, making it last longer on a shelf and ship further distances (and in some cases, even be healthier for you). Not to mention create new foods that people demand.
You’ll want to keep an eye for Frito-Lay’s latest creation, hitting store shelves next week. After the company (which is owned by Pepsi) asked consumers to choose its next flavor, the ideas poured in. The finalists? Starting next week, stores nationwide will stock three new flavors: cheesy garlic bread, chicken and waffles, and sriracha, the hot chili sauce native to Thailand. The three finalists can give you an idea of just how zany the other ideas must have been.
Not all of them will stick around. Chris Kuechenmeister, public affairs director for Frito-Lay North America, says that after consumers vote—with their taste buds—the winner will become a longer-term flavor. In the spirit of food democracy, may the best flavor win. One of them, however, sticks out. Anyone who enjoys chicken and waffles and potato chips will soon find out how they all taste together.