A Chippy Election Cycle

According to an AP report, for the first time in Lay’s history, the corporation is allowing “fans” the opportunity to choose its next chip flavor.

Social media has helped make the world smaller. Revolutions around the world have used Facebook and Twitter to organize protests and action, and Facebook can also determine the outcome of an election. No, maybe not an “actual” election — but if you’re a snack company and have three new flavors of potato chips you’re wanting consumers to choose from as your new full-time product, social media is your most obvious marketing platform.

Last year, Lay’s launched its “Classic BLT” flavor, which was meant to resemble a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but really just tasted like toast and bacon bits. Regardless, the chipmaker received a relatively large amount of press (slow news year?) for the “interesting” new flavor attempt. 

Realizing these unusual new flavors were a good way to get people talking about the company, Lay’s inserted itself into the national conversation via a poll on Facebook.

According to an AP report, for the first time in Lay’s history, the corporation is allowing “fans” the opportunity to choose its next chip flavor. The company (part of Pepsi’s Frito-Lay empire) received almost four million flavor suggestions through its “Do Us a Flavor” campaign, which were whittled down to 20. After judges tasted each prototype, three were deemed finalists — Chicken & Waffles, Cheesy Garlic Bread and Sriracha. U.S. consumers should consider themselves lucky — the company’s U.K. brand Walkers did a similar contest in 2008 and fans, according to the AP, came up with Chilli & Chocolate, Cajun Squirrel and Builder’s Breakfast (a bacon/eggs/sausage chip which eventually won but was later discontinued). 

The three people who submitted the flavors put on the market have their names on every Lay’s bag with that flavor, but, more importantly, the winning chip designer will receive a million bucks (they each already received $50,000 for getting this far). Your vote will earn you the deep satisfaction of knowing you helped an average citizen become a millionaire and that you decided what weird flavor would be added to the Lay’s roster. 

To be an informed voter, I decided to avoid the campaigning on Lay’s Facebook page and find a bag of each to test. I was stunned by the hoops I had to jump through to simply purchase a bag of each. 

Some stores (like the Kroger I visited) didn’t have any of the three flavors, while at a local Meijer I found tons of big bags of the Sriracha flavor. I revisited a Walgreens based on a tip and found smaller bags of Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles scattered on the counter by the cash registered. 

Of the seven stores I visited, not one had the Cheesy Garlic Bread flavor. The Chicken & Waffles lobby must be really strong. 

So, with Cheesy Garlic Bread (much like Mitt Romney last year) not showing up for the campaign, my choices were easily whittled down to two. 

Sriracha would seem to be the favorite to win it all. It’s a bit of a sophisticated flavor — Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce that has a nice kick. Not the overwhelming, sweat-and-cry kind of kick, but one that sneaks up on you gradually. There’s a little bit of sweetness to the hot; overall, it’s an interesting taste that I could see being a modest seller. 

Lay’s Chicken & Waffles chips have some obstacles to overcome if they hope to win — namely, the name. Judging from the reaction online, many already aren’t fans of the “odd” pairing, which is based on a soul food breakfast favorite. Indeed, fried chicken, waffles and syrup, distilled into chip form, isn’t an appetizing concept. But Lay’s version is surprisingly good — even though I can’t for the life of me pick out fried chicken, waffles and syrup flavors. Blended together, the end result is a flavor you might find at an Indian restaurant. A little more spice (maybe some curry? Or a little Sriracha?) and it’d be perfect. The trick to enjoying Chicken & Waffles chips is to get the idea of “Chicken & Waffles” out of your brain before you taste it. Go in without expectations. 

As for the Cheesy Garlic Bread chips, I’ll have to keep hunting. Should it really be so hard to find a bag of mass-marketed potato chips? If I was Karen Weber-Mendham of Land O’ Lakes, Wisc., the inventor of the flavor, I’d file a complaint with the election board immediately. 

If you were lucky enough to find all three (or even if you just want to be an uninformed voter and vote for a flavor because you think the others were socialist chips baked in Kenya), you can “Vote to Save Your Fave” at facebook.com/lays. You can also vote on Twitter using the hashtag #SaveSriracha (or whichever taste you prefer) or by texting “VOTE” to 24477. Voting ends in May and the winning chip will stay in stores presumably until it stops selling. May the best weird flavor win!

CONTACT MIKE BREEN : [email protected] or @CityBeatMusic