strategy

From Goldfish to Mountain Dew, here’s why so many snacks are getting a spicy twist

“Spicy foods, especially Cheetos or Takis, lend themselves really well to creator culture,” Brendan Shaughnessy, strategy director at cultural consultancy sparks & honey, told Marketing Brew.
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Blue Diamond

· 3 min read

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You probably don’t want your mid-afternoon almonds to taste like the hottest pepper in the world, the Carolina Reaper. But if you do, you can buy ’em, thanks to Blue Diamond’s line of spicy almonds released in April.

Blue Diamond is one of many brands over the past couple of years to have taken its signature product and made it spicy. In April, Goldfish worked with Frank’s RedHot to create a spicy version of its cracker, while McCormick turned its classic Old Bay seasoning into hot sauce in 2020.

  • Mountain Dew took the trend to absurd new heights last week, teaming up with Cheetos (both are owned by PepsiCo) to create a Flamin’ Hot limited edition of its soda.
  • PepsiCo’s been trying to capitalize on the success of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto for quite some time—see: Flamin' Hot Rold Gold, Ruffles, and Smartfood. And Flamin’ Hot Cheetos ice cream.

Why is it spicy

Melanie Zanoza Bartelme, global food analyst at market research firm Mintel, told Marketing Brew that people are becoming more intrigued by spicy flavors, spurring brands to react accordingly. “A few years back, we saw increased interest in different kinds of peppers, such as ghost pepper and the super-spicy Carolina Reaper,” she explained.

Sad stat of the day: A Mintel survey conducted in January found that 42% of US consumers agree that trying new snack flavors “adds some excitement” to their daily routines.

  • “These sorts of limited-edition spicy products were already happening before the pandemic, but I think that the monotony of day-to-day life during the pandemic could be creating a need for something to break out of what may be becoming a flavor rut,” Bartelme told us, adding that, for brands, “these kinds of collaborations, or line extensions, may represent a less risky route toward innovation right now.”

Blast from the past: Spice-laden snacks could also stem from nostalgia marketing, which—as Ad Age recently noted—is popular right now. Brendan Shaughnessy, strategy director at cultural consultancy sparks & honey, said people have been gravitating toward “nostalgia and comfort foods” over the past 18 months. He pointed to the fact that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were invented in 1989, so “there’s a lot of nostalgia with them as a snack food.”

That’s hot

Shaughnessy said social platforms are likely driving the trend as well. Case in point: The hashtag “#hotsaucechallenge” on TikTok has 95.9 millon views.

“Spicy foods, especially Cheetos or Takis, lend themselves really well to creator culture,” he explained. “Looking at a TikTok challenge, or watching someone make something on YouTube, feels very communal and participative, even if we’re just watching them experience it. If we think about things like quarantine or our inability to travel to different places, [social media] feels like a really natural place for spicy foods to continue to be experimented with in a way that feels a little bit more participative.”—MS

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