How Frito-Lay is making its products healthier

by Monica Watrous
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Indian Tikka Masala, Yorkshire Pudding and Salmon Teriyaki Lay's potato chips
Lay's potato chips have come in such flavors as Yorkshire Pudding, Salmon Teriyaki and Indian Tikka Masala.

PURCHASE, N.Y. — Indian Tikka Masala, Yorkshire Pudding and Salmon Teriyaki are among hundreds of far-flung flavors created for Lay’s potato chips sold around the world.

Christine J. Cioffe, Ph.D., senior vice-president, Sustainability and Global Snacks R.&D. at PepsiCo, Inc., parent company of Frito-Lay
Christine Cioffe, Ph.D., senior vice-president, Sustainability and Global Snacks R.&D. at PepsiCo

“Somebody was telling me the other day that we have over 3,000 flavors in what we call our flavor bank,” said Christine J. Cioffe, Ph.D., senior vice-president, Sustainability and Global Snacks R.&D. at PepsiCo, Inc., parent company of Frito-Lay. “I think it speaks to the power of a company that operates across 200-plus countries.”

This year, Americans were introduced Crispy Taco, Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, and Fried Green Tomato varieties for a limited time as part of the brand’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, a campaign so successful the company has expanded it to additional markets since its 2012 debut.

Flavor, Dr. Cioffe said, is a “stronghold” for Frito-Lay.

Lay's Do Us A Flavor - Crispy Taco, Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, and Fried Green Tomato
This year's Lay's "Do Us a Flavor" contest finalists were Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese, Crispy Taco and Fried Green Tomato.

“It’s definitely a capability that R.&D. has built and strengthened over the last decade or so,” she added. “Flavor is going to continue to be an opportunity.”

Meanwhile, the product development team at PepsiCo is focused on making its snacks healthier. The company has committed to limiting sodium and saturated fat while adding whole grains, vegetables and protein, said Elizabeth Roark, registered dietitian and principal scientist, PepsiCo Nutrition Services.

Elizabeth Roark, registered dietitian and principal scientist, PepsiCo Nutrition Services
Elizabeth Roark, registered dietitian and principal scientist, PepsiCo Nutrition Services

“We’re really looking to not only decrease the negatives but also increase the positives and transform our portfolio in a positive direction,” Ms. Roark said.

In its Performance with Purpose 2025 Agenda, published last year, PepsiCo outlined its nutrition goals. By 2025, at least three-quarters of the company’s global foods portfolio is expected to contain 1.3 mg of sodium or less per calorie and 1.1 grams of saturated fat or less per 100 calories.

The increased focus on nutritious snacks has led to such recent innovations as Simply Tostitos Black Bean tortilla chips, with 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving; Sun Chips Veggie Harvest chips, made with vegetables and whole grains; and Smartfood Delight popcorn, with 35 calories per cup.

Frito-Lay Tostitos Black Bean tortilla chips, with 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving; Sun Chips Veggie Harvest chips, made with vegetables and whole grains, Smartfood Delight popcorn, with 35 calories per cup
Frito-Lay's focus on nutrition snacks has led to innovations such as Simply Tostitos Black Bean tortilla chips, Sun Chips Veggie Harvest chips and Smartfood Delight popcorn.

There’s also a new line of Lightly Salted snack chips under the Lay’s and Fritos banners. These products contain 50% less sodium than the original varieties.

“As an R.&D. leader I’m so happy and delighted with the progress we are making on our snacks portfolio, particularly with regards to sodium,” Dr. Cioffe said. “We do recognize sodium is a concern for consumers; many consumers are looking to limit sodium intake in their diets on a daily basis, but we also recognize we have some really iconic snacking products that are phenomenal in their taste and the eating experience.”

Dr. Cioffe and Ms. Roark discussed with Food Business News the company’s efforts to improve the nutrition of its snacks while maintaining the “wow” flavor factor.

Frito-Lay lightly salted Lay's chips and Frito's
Frito-Lay has launched a new line of Lightly Salted snack chips under the Lay’s and Fritos banners.

Food Business News: How is PepsiCo reducing sodium in its snacks?

Dr. Cioffe: We’re really taking a very balanced approach to understanding how and where we use sodium. For the most part with our snacking portfolio, sodium is applied as either a topical, if it’s what we call a salt seasoning, where sodium is the only seasoning being used on the snack, or if it’s a more complex formula, if you think of barbecue formula or perhaps a spicy formula or even a sour cream and onion. There, we have a lot of complex flavors coming into play, and sodium will round out the taste but is not necessarily carrying all of the taste.

We’ve been on the journey since the first version of our Performance with Purpose back in 2006. We updated and leaned into our product transformation goals last year when we published our P.W.P. 2025.

Where did the 1.3 mg-per-calorie target come from?

Ms. Roark: I know it’s a different way of thinking about sodium intake, but the World Health Organization recommends looking at sodium intake as it relates to caloric intake. So, basically the more calories you consume, the more sodium you’re allowed, and vice versa. That’s where the mg per kcal comes from.


To put the 1.3 mg per kcal in perspective, in the U.S. we’re currently consuming about 3,400 mg per day, and our daily value for calories is about 2,000, so that comes out to about 1.7 mg per calorie. And if you think about it in terms of where we’d like to be with regards to U.S. sodium consumption, a daily value of 2,400 mg, that’s about 1.2 mg per kcal. So, 1.3 mg is a really nice step down from what we’re currently consuming, and this is much closer to the dietary recommendations for limiting sodium intake.

But consumers really like the taste of salt on their potato chips. How are you addressing that?

Dr. Cioffe: I think we’re getting to that sweet spot of a great experience with a lower sodium intake, and I think one of our stars in the portfolio is Lay’s Lightly Salted, as well as the products we’re doing around our Smartfoods portfolio. In both cases we’ve been able to actually exceed the sodium reduction we’re looking for and still have a really great tasting product.

We do know through previous experience as well as consumer insights that when you signal to a consumer “now reduced” or “now lower” there’s a feeling you have either changed the product proposition or in a sense you’re depriving the consumer of the best experience possible. I think the positioning you see with Lay’s Lightly Salted is there’s not a deprivation. The salt brings out that intrinsic delicious taste of our potatoes. It really provides the same quality experience when you’re consuming Lay’s Lightly Salted.

Lay's less salt, Smartfood Delight popcorn
Lay's Lightly Salted and Smartfood Delight contain a lower sodium amount.

You’re also offering consumers organic and non-G.M.O. snacks through the Simply line. How did that come about?

Dr. Cioffe: This is Frito-Lay’s response to a consumer demand. What we’ve seen is a tremendously successful launch of products under the Simply banner. And it has then encouraged us to further explore how we can bring more products to the portfolio under the Simply banner so we can continue to increase the breadth and number of products we can provide to consumers.

We have a large R.&D. focus on how we look at our formulations, look at our recipes and make the change to ingredients that are not artificial based as well as respond to the consumer’s request around organic.

Simply Frito-Lay line, organic and non-G.M.O.
Frito-Lay offers organic and non-G.M.O. snacks through its Simply line.

This is no longer a trend. I think this is a mainstay set of expectations for our consumers.

In addition to subtracting sodium and saturated fat, you’re adding positive nutrition to your snacks. What does that look like?

Ms. Roark: We have a really nice whole grains portfolio with our Sun Chips brand. Our core products within that brand already deliver 19 grams of whole grains per serving. We recently added our Sun Chips Veggie Harvest line, which delivers 13 grams of whole grains per serving.

We are also looking at delivering products with nuts and seeds, as well as incorporating vegetables and fruits into our various snacks.

SunChips Veggie Harvest chips
The new Sun Chips Veggie Harvest line delivers 13 grams of whole grains per serving.

Dr. Cioffe: We are really pursuing things that are moving from on-trend to mainstream expectations. Think about all of the innovation within plant-based ingredients.

In our Off the Eaten Path portfolio … the first ingredient is a legume. It might be a bean; it might be a pea. It might be a pulse, a chickpea, for example. What we’re trying to do is create light and airy snacks that appeal to a consumer that may be looking for a bit more creativity, might be looking for those legume or pulse ingredients. In those snacks we are developing from the onset a lower saturated fat and lower sodium profile so we’re compliant with our P.W.P. 2025 goals.

So that’s one area where we’re exploring.

Off the Eaten Path chips
The first ingredient in Off the Eaten Path snacks is legumes.

Conversely there’s a lot going on in an agricultural commodity called roots or tubers. This would play off of our potato knowledge. It allows us to get into sweet potatoes, cassava, which is very prevalent down in Brazil. We’re looking at things like yucca, carrots, turnips. It allows us to really expand on the input in our snack forms, while keeping pace with where the consumer is going so that we’re always anticipating and delivering to the consumer expectations.

If you’re exploring an ingredient like cassava now, how long will it take before consumers see something on shelves?

Dr. Cioffe: A lot of times it turns into how complex is it to process that particular crop input. We’re basically having to process that crop and … ensure product has high quality, is food safe and has the appropriate shelf life because we want to make sure we’re not getting into food wastage or food spoilage. The average development time can vary anywhere from 18 months up to a couple of years. Often we are developing never-seen-before processing technologies so we can maintain the core characteristics of those crops. And we also have to be thinking about the agricultural supply chain because many of the supply chains will be fragmented in the beginning.

Frito-Lay is exploring cassava as a possible snack ingredient for its portfolio.

For example, PepsiCo has an extensive supply chain around the chipping potatoes that we use for our Lay’s potato chip products. That took decades to grow. It took decades to scale. So we have to be thinking about the next generation of ingredients through supply chain considerations, including sustainability.

We look at everything also through the lens of water use as well as greenhouse gas footprint. So, as you can imagine it’s a very complex system we’re trying to bring together.

Of all the Lay’s flavors, which is your favorite?

Lay's salt and vinegar and crawfish chips
Lay's flavors range from the common, such as salt and vinegar, to the unusual, such as crawfish.

Dr. Cioffe: Salt and vinegar. I am a salt and vinegar nut. I cannot get enough of it. And it’s hard to choose. My family adores when we do Do Us a Flavor because they go get all of the different contenders and tell me what they think is the best. I try to explain to them it’s not up to me. 

That’s the fun part about the Lay’s flavors. I always view it as a chance to take a trip around the world and never leave home.  It allows you to try things like seaweed or crawfish… You close your eyes, and it’s like, wow. This is really it. So, I always think of it as it’s a chance to explore the taste of the world on a potato chip format. And that’s not a bad place to be.

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By Khaleed Khan 11/24/2017 11:32:39 AM
Great information, happy to have this type of information to share with our nutrition team including +600 Registered Dietitians. Alberta Health services is a very large health organization with over 106 sites and +109,000 staff. Healthy eating is a very significant part of the our mandate and societal changes need to occur more rapidly to have positives outcomes on the public at large.