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For Chips Worthy of a Challenge

Fine, fine, fine. I will do you a flavor. But just this once. Actually I suppose I will be doing it annually from now on because I don’t want to miss out on the fun.

Truth be told I am more of a Pringles or Doritos kind of gal. Lay’s are generally too salty, thin, and do not contain an even amount of flavor per chip, no matter the variety you choose. But recently Lay’s has gotten my attention with its annual contest “Do Us A Flavor”.

Each year Lay’s searches for the next great, creative flavored chip that will win the coveted first spot, giving the genius behind the idea a prize of one million dollars (or one percent of the net sales in the first year, whichever is higher). The idea of putting the chips back into the hands of those who consume them might just be the greatest marketing strategy of our generation. It all began back in 2012 when the winner was “Garlic Bread”.

This made me wonder, what if every company took this approach? Would this draw in more customers? Or at least more satisfied customers? Back in my day it was all about New Coke, for a second, then back to Old Coke. We didn’t need a vote then, the universal upset led directly to a decrease in consumption that sent a very clear message.

Speaking of crystal clear, that reminds me of another experiment in the soda industry, Crystal Pepsi. It was even more disgusting than it sounds. I remember being in the sixth grade when it came out and it was all the rage. But everyone who drank it hated it. Finally it disappeared back into the Pepsi vault. I saw some mention of it online as recently as 2015 for those handful of fans waiting for their drink to rise again from its grave.

After years of selling only one version of its product and making a killing doing so, Oreo cookies have jumped onto the flavor bandwagon. Although they are not using contests for flavor suggestions, there are now several different, limited editions, seasonal flavors keeping fans waiting on baited breath to see what will come next.

I am not a Oreo fan but I will say that I do enjoy the Pumpkin Spice variety. The fact that the cookie is vanilla instead of chocolate is a big draw for me. Plus I like the fall spice season. I have heard mention so far of red velvet, brownie, s’mores, toasted coconut, birthday cake, and cotton candy. I have not tasted any of them and probably won’t but if you are interested keep a lookout. They come and go so fast. You will have to stalk some of your favorite stores so that you do not miss out. This April, Strawberry Shortcake will roll out. I look forward to reading those reviews.

Fans of M&Ms will remember that there has been more than one consumer contest with a mix of results. It seems this company couldn’t decide how much real influence they wanted the winners to have. For example in the early 1990s the very first contest wanted to know what color should replace the tan M&M. I can hardly remember that color so I guess this was successful on some level. The choices were pink, purple, or blue. Blue was the champion years before Beyonce named her daughter that. I wonder if this was the inspiration.

Other than that M&Ms have remained mostly unchanged. Sure there were the pecan pie and pumpkin spice recently that tried to contend with the now year round push of seasonal flavors. It affects everything from coffee to tomato sauce. I wish I were kidding but last year I actually saw a pasta sauce, red marinara, that said it was pumpkin spice. I don’t even know what that means and I don’t think I want to.

In Spring 2016 M&Ms are launching their updated campaign “Vote For Your Favorite Peanut” where voters will have to choose from Chili Nut, Coffee Nut, and Honey Nut. When this contest ends in June, the summer will have “mixed displays” with no final word on how permanent the winning flavor will be.

As a side note, my favorite M&Ms are not the ones you eat. I ADORE those commercials especially ones with Santa. The yellow peanut M&M is my favorite. He is bulky and funny. Those are two very good characteristics. Just like Gus the mouse in Cinderella.  They are almost as funny as the mucus that follows the guy he inhabits to work for Taco Tuesday, gets me every time.

“Do Us A Flavor” was the original, successful contest of this kind. That is impressive. Imitation really is the most sincere form of flattery. Last year I tried the winner, Southern Biscuits and Gravy. The Biscuits were amazing. It was so confused to be eating a food that looked like one thing and tasted like another. Science has sure come a long way.

This year though I wanted to be more involved so I choice two of the four flavors competing to win or fear extermination. I laid them all out and tried the current flavor then the one that seeks to dethrone it. This way I could really compare.

One of the downsides of new flavors that seem so off the wall is that you can’t wait to try them. But after a few chips the flavor is too strong or too strange for an entire serving. However, this year’s selections couldn’t have been farther from the truth this year.

First up was Honey Barbecue versus the new Korean Barbecue. I had never even heard of the Honey Barbecue and that was the so-called old flavor. It was rather tasty and I am glad to have that mesquite taste without any of the burn. The sweet and salt went together nicely here but after a few chips  it was too sweet for me. I eat chips for the salt. I am not a sweet treat eater. Sorry Honey but I would have to take a pass.

As for the Korean Barbecue- I WAS BLOWN AWAY. It tasted EXACTLY like the real thing and was so delicious I kept eating them. They had this sweet yet tangy sauce like flavor, which I could not guess for the life of me. It was sort of like teriyaki but not. They didn’t taste at all like meat or were overpowering in any way. It was like a meal you would make in summer on your grill. I craved one instantly and now again as I write this. Surprisingly it had less sodium than its rival.

I had bought the mini bags thankfully but I could have easily had them all in one sitting. I had to hide them from myself they were that good. It made me crave the real thing but also more of the chips.

Next up was Cheddar and Sour Cream against Smoked Gouda and Chives. Cheddar and Sour Cream have always been a source of comfort for me. Although I do prefer them in Ridgies probably because I feel they hold the flavor better.  These tasted more like Sour Cream than Cheddar. The salt content here is also overpowering and remains with you no matter what else you eat after.

While I enjoy Smoked Gouda and Chives in food I was concerned about how that combo would play out here. I thought the Gouda would be too strong for me let alone those who aren’t a fan. Some cheeses can be a tad too sharp. I took a bite and waited for it to bite back. It did but not at all how I pictured. After that first bite they become so edible I was reaching in the bag grabbing a handful and throwing them back. They were incredibly addicting yet also had lower sodium than the Cheddar and Sour Cream. I found it interesting that as a chip lover I chosen both which had less salt but more real flavor. That certainly says something. These too had to be hidden from me.

After such careful analysis I was sure to vote in Lay’s “Do Us A Flavor” which is now closed. I know ballots are usually kept secret but that would defeat my point. I will say I voted in favor of the change for each. Either way I think I am fine with those flavors on my chips. I am now so curious what the choices will be next year. I wish I had a chance at that million dollars but I am not usually creative in this way.

I also wouldn’t mind being the one who got to taste all of the contestants to determine which would make the final round. Lay’s perhaps you could “Do Me This Favor”.

For a recap of the exhaustive list of flavors submitted in the last three years:

“The 2013 contest produced three new flavors: sriracha, chicken and waffles, and cheesy garlic bread. Cheesy garlic bread was chosen as the winner and was added to the lineup, however the other flavors remain on sale in some regions. Another round of '“Do Us A Flavor”' was launched in 2014. The flavors include Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger, Wavy Mango Salsa, and Cappuccino. Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger was chosen as the winner. The 2015 finalists include Kettle Cooked Greektown Gyro, New York Reuben, Southern Biscuits & Gravy, and Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries. Southern Biscuits & Gravy was crowned the winner.”

It is no surprise that apps like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have changed the way we live, work, shop, and eat. It takes the idea of a twenty-four news cycle into the great beyond. By the looks of things on social media nearly all of us are captivated at one time or another with these contests. We are after all a nation that likes keeping score and eating our trans fats on the go. Just a disclaimer- I have no idea where the Lay’s brand falls within the trans fat journey. But I know they are not organic, not yet anyways. I just hope the 2017 “Do Us A Flavor” contest winner is not Wheat Grass. Lord help us. But at least I know what I would give up for Lent that year.

The feature I like the best is on Facebook is that the “Like’” button has been changed to "I'd Eat That". Major points for creativity and the ideas keep on coming.

Even their promotional short is entertaining!

I intended to be very thorough throughout this post. I hope I have prohibited the need of any reader longing for any additional snack related information. With that in mind, if you are curiosity about potato chips extends farther than just their flavor, here is how the parent company of Lay’s, Frito Lay, makes all of their very popular snacks:

Now that we are all well versed in the arena of product creativity in our marketplace lets be sure to keep track and vote for your favorites every year to see those changes reflected in stores nationwide.

During the heyday of MTV they taught us all to Rock the Vote! I suggest the same when it comes to my snacks.

In my world both potato chips and deciding who the next President will be, are equally deserving of my vote.

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