Tony Matta, vice-president of marketing for Frito Lay Canada, says removing trans-fats from its product line, which includes brands such as Lays, Doritos, Tostitos, SunChips, Ruffles, Munchies, Cheetos, Flat Earth and Stacy's, at the end of 2004 was one of the first steps it took when it realized that health and wellness was here to stay.
“I think it was the right thing to do for the consumers and for our business. As a market leader, there’s a certain expectation from our customers that we would be a big part of leading that movement,” he says.
Frito Lay followed that up two years ago by launching reduced-sodium Lays, a lightly salted potato chip. Matta says the move was a result of research showing consumers were increasingly concerned about how much sodium was in their diets.
“It’s about offering consumers choice. You can buy original Lays or right beside it, reduced-sodium Lays,” he says, noting the company’s cooking processes are now healthier as well, thanks to the use of sunflower and corn oils.
But the most ground-breaking products launched by Frito Lay is its Flat Earth vegetable and fruit crisps, baked chips that contain a half-serving of fruits and vegetables in each serving of 14 chips. Some of the flavors include Apple Cinnamon Grove, Peach Mango Paradise, Tangy Tomato Ranch, and Wild Berry Patch.
Matta says they allow consumers to enjoy snacking on fruits and vegetables in a “great tasting” chip without actually eating fruits and vegetables. “It’s an easy thing to say but it’s really hard to do, to deliver on the best of both worlds. It takes a significant investment and really understanding your consumer,” he says.
The reality of the snack food business is taste is always king, Matta says. People also want to enjoy snack foods because they’re a break from their daily routine, he adds.
“The nirvana consumers seek is they want to eat their cake and have it, too,” he says. “They want to have healthier snacks and do the right things for their diet. At the same time, they don’t want to give up taste.”
He says studies have shown consumers have been disappointed in other snack food categories where they feel they’ve had to make a significant trade off in taste to get a healthy product.
Furthermore, Matta says the company’s core philosophy of being as close to the consumer as possible, and distinguishing between fads and long-term trends, hasn’t changed. And, he adds, just because the company has become more health conscious in its line-up, it hasn’t changed its branding focus.
“We’re continuing to play a leadership role and the nature of that evolves. (Our brand) is about maintaining the connection with consumers and doing the right thing, making the right offerings,” he says.
Frito Lay isn’t only changing the products in its packages; it’s also changing the size of the packages themselves. Last year, it launched 100-calorie packs to help some of its customers regulate their intake. “We’re giving them the snacks that they love, only smaller.
"The idea is to make 100 calories in easy-to-use and carry packaging. Some customers are counting calories all the time. To them, 100-calorie offerings make a ton of sense,” he says, adding the company will continue to supplement the Frito Lay portfolio with new brands and ideas.
Matta explains that consumers will always jump on and off the bandwagons of fad diets, but in general, most of them are looking to make healthy eating choices on an ongoing basis. “I don’t want to say it’s everyone, but most consumers, on one level, say they monitor what they eat or make choices based on health and wellness. They may not be making them 24-7, but they’re definitely making them. We’ve always been a snack food company for all people,” he says.
Rob Warren, director of the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, says Frito Lay has done a great job on two fronts. First, cutting down on calories by going the baked route and coming out with 100-calorie packages show the company has kept on top of what consumers are looking for.
Second, by repositioning its chips, pretzels and other items away from being something consumers “shovel down,” they have become “snack foods” rather than “something to eat whenever you’re hungry.”
“Frito Lay had to move away from being the king of the high-fat, high-calorie content to more health conscious products,” he says, adding the company now stamps its healthy products with a green check mark surrounded by a yellow circle.
Warren says necessity was the mother of invention when it came to Frito Lay repositioning its product line. “They had seen their market share eaten away because people were concerned with the obesity crisis in North America and they were moving towards healthier living. People didn’t want to be seen shovelling down food that can cause heart disease, a stroke or some other medical condition. Now they still want to have salty snack foods but in a healthier format,” he says.