In the baking and snack industry, the key moment in the product development process occurs when a consumer bites into a product for the first time. That first bite determines whether the flavors, sensations and texture are ideal for the product’s target market and price point.

In late August, Frito-Lay North America, a business unit of PepsiCo, Inc., opened the doors to its Frito-Lay Culinary Innovation Center in Plano, TX, and hosted a regional Research Chefs Association (RCA) event that focused on how Frito-Lay develops salty snacks from a culinary point of view. Frito-Lay North America is the largest snack food manufacturer in the US, and its product portfolio runs the gamut of salty snack applications such as chips, Cheetos, nuts, seeds and pretzels to Funyuns and dip mixes. The broad product portfolio provides fertile ground for culinary inspiration, but specifications related to convenience, shelf stability and price point make the product development process a challenge.

“The phrase ‘culinary inspiration’ is part of the vocabulary here, and it is also that fuzzy front end piece,” said Elizabeth D’Cunha, R&D principal scientist and a certified culinary scientist. “Let’s say we need new product development for Tostitos, but we don’t know what that shape may take. One of the inspirations may be culinary. The chef will prepare something to start the dialogue — literally food for thought. Chefs think differently than a food scientist or an engineer. They act as an inspiration for the others who then may take an idea and go make it.”


Inspiration may also come from a variety of sources including emerging demographics and cultural behaviors. Earlier this year, Frito-Lay introduced Tapatío-flavored Doritos, Fritos and Ruffles snack products. Tapatío is a salsa picante manufactured by the Tapatío Hot Sauce Co., Vernon, Calif. Introduced in 1971, Tapatío is a hot sauce that has become popular with the Mexican population in the Southwest. It has become common for some consumers of the product to carry 5-oz bottles of the sauce with them and pour it on meals eaten throughout the day.

Holly Deal Ramage, R&D scientist, noted that Frito-Lay employees on the West Coast observed the consumer behavior of adding Tapatío to Frito products, and were discussing the trend through various social media applications.

“We understood through insights we gathered through social media that there was a trend happening with Tapatío,” Ms. Deal Ramage said. “As we developed the idea, we wanted to define the Tapatío consumer: Where are they coming from and what are their purchasing behaviors?

“So we received good insight about a consumer habit and worked against it to capture the habit and create a fully developed product,” she continued. “We partnered with the company that makes the hot sauce and were able to launch three flavors that were Tapatío-inspired. In this case, we were able to find the right partner and give the product authenticity.”

The three Tapatío-inspired flavors include a combination of red chili peppers, spices and a hint of garlic. Fritos carry the traditional Tapatío flavor, and a second has been added to the company’s Doritos Nacho Cheese line of products to create a product called Doritos Tapatío. In the company’s Ruffles line, lime juice is combined with the hot sauce to create a flavor that features the tang of citrus combined with the heat of the sauce. The product is called Ruffles Tapatío Limón.


Frito-Lay’s Rold Gold pretzel brand has been in existence for almost a century. It is a traditional product line that has stayed true to its original form over time.

“Rold Gold is a well established brand and hadn’t seen many exciting new products in the recent past,” said Megan Lang, R&D scientist. “It was determined the time was right for innovation; we wanted something new.

“Our first goal was to develop something consumers will love and will keep the brand energized,” she continued. “Beyond that we were tapping into the heritage of the pretzel, which is a traditional experience dating back to 5th Century bakeries. We wanted to update that tradition to make it applicable to today. The proposition for the consumer is, ‘You can still get your grandfather’s pretzel, but here is one designed for you.’ With customization in mind, we asked what we can do that is new but still holds onto the brand’s value.”

The history and tradition of pretzels may be seen in the products’ original shape, which is that of a praying child, according to Ms. Lang. Pretzels were developed by bakers in Europe who had leftover bread and rolled it and twisted it into the common shape consumers see today.

During the development process, the product development team considered the different bread varieties available today and looked at how they may be incorporated into a pretzel. The concept focused on “tradition with a twist” by drawing inspiration from the bake shop and creating pretzels with all the flavor of popular bread types baked inside. The three pretzel applications they settled on were cinnamon raisin bread, cheesy garlic bread and everything bagels.

During the RCA session, Ms. Lang focused on the challenges of creating a cinnamon raisin pretzel.

“When you buy cinnamon raisin bread from a bakery, there is a swirl of cinnamon throughout the product,” she said. “Creating a pretzel with a swirl inside was a challenge we would not be able to deliver within the current constraints of our processing lines so we chose to go with a braided shape. Instead of putting the swirl on the inside, we applied the idea to the shape of the pretzel. When we showed that to consumers, they loved it.”

The team had to rethink the application of raisins as well. Adding whole or pieces of raisins to a pretzel would not be feasible for a variety of reasons, so they opted to rethink the form of the raisin instead.

“We couldn’t put raisins inside the pretzel, so we opted for a powdered raisin juice concentrate,” Ms. Lang said. “You still get the subtly sweet, dried fruit flavor of the raisin, without the processing challenges and risk of burning.”

The Rold Gold Cinnamon Raisin pretzel was introduced this past February on a national scale.

Eve Lawson, R&D principal scientist, has been working at Frito-Lay for 21 years, and said she has seen product development evolve from a simple approach to a more broad perspective.

“When I started, the emphasis was on more simple snack foods,” she said. “Now, all the brands are developing more complex flavor profiles, considering consumer needs and wider usage occasions. We are designing products and packages incorporating consumer feedback, and building more robust propositions. We make real food and our capabilities as product developers and designers continue to evolve.”