Talk about brand extensions. PepsiCo recently announced a movie version of Uncle Drew, a big screen adaptation of its hugely popular branded entertainment web series starring NBA phenom Kyrie Irving playing an aged basketball legend who’s still got game.
Now PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division is getting in the movie (and branded entertainment) business with a biopic based on the origin story of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos—the Halloween costume of choice for Katy Perry in 2014 and a cultural phenomenon as well as a huge hit.
— Frito-Lay N. America (@Fritolay) October 31, 2014
Its creator, a former janitor, will be the subject of a biopic about how he came up with the idea—and remarkably, was promoted by PepsiCo to help bring Flamin’ Hot Cheetos into a billion-dollar sub-brand that revolutionized the snack industry.
Fox Searchlight is producing a movie about snack creator Richard Montañez that could resemble Good Will Hunting with a dash of The Founder. It tells the true story of how, in 1976, Montanez—the Mexican-born immigrant who moved to California as a kid and was a former grape-picker—became a janitor at a Frito-Lay factory in California and took inspiration by a speech by one of his managers.
In 1976, he got the chance to apply the entrepreneurial zeal he was feeling when a machine breakdown meant that a batch of Cheetos ended up not getting covered in their cheesy powder, so he took some home to experiment with an idea he had. Inspired by elotes, a popular street food in Mexico of corn covered with mayonnaise, cheese and chili, Montañez created his own flavor of Cheetos, including adding chili powder for a kick.
He refined the concept before taking it to his bosses after preparing for the pitch by reading marketing books at the public library, buying a tie (for $3) and designing mock bags for the packaging he envisioned himself.
Fast forward to Cheetos launching his Flamin’ Hots idea, which went on to become one of the industry’s biggest snack launches. What’s more, Montañez began an unlikely rise through the ranks to EVP of multicultural sales and marketing at PepsiCo and writing a book (released in 2013) about his entrepreneurial approach to life called A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie.
Montanez is also a frequent speaker, sharing his inspiring story with others.
As Vice reports: “The new biopic, called Flamin’ Hot, will be written by Lewis Colick (October Sky) and will likely follow Montañez’s Horatio Alger–style rise from janitor to spicy snack genius to top exec at PepsiCo, where he works today. FOX Searchlight will produce, alongside DeVon Franklin, who reportedly developed the idea for the film with Colick and Montanez himself.”
— Richard P. Montañez (@RPMontanez) November 5, 2014
No word yet on who will star as Montañez, but Cheetos is ready for its big screen debut. As if to prepare for the debut of the Flamin’ Hots movie, the brand has already released a Cheetos-popcorn hybrid product that has been rolled out at Regal Cinemas across America.
In a testament to PepsiCo’s commitment to diversity and recognizing talent, Montanez isn’t the only executive with an unorthodox rise through the ranks at Frito-Lay. It recently profiled Laura Maxwell, who spent years in its manufacturing facilities to rise to Senior Vice President, Supply Chain for Frito-Lay North America.