Harris Interactive recently released the results of its 2012 Harris Poll EquiTrend study, which analyzed the responses of more than 38,500 consumers on key measures of brand health for more than 1,500 lifestyle, product and service brands. When questioned about the brands they are likely to reach for when craving a salty snack, respondents chose Lay’s Potato Chips—the top-ranked salty snack for the past eight years—followed by two other Frito-Lay North America brands, Doritos and Tostitos.

Given Frito-Lay’s ability to continuously deliver innovative products that meet consumers’ snack wants (known and unknown), it’s not surprising that the popular tortilla chip brands joined Lay’s Potato Chips on the salty snack award dais.

In March, for instance, the Plano, Texas-based division of PepsiCo introduced Doritos Dinamita, a Dorito tortilla chip rolled into a taquito shape. Aimed at “consumers looking to add a touch of spice to their snacking,” according to Frito-Lay, the new rolled tortilla chips were launched in two zesty flavors, Chile Limon and Nacho Picoso. Both have no trans-fats, cholesterol or sugar and are gluten-free.

“We wanted to transform the bold taste of Doritos tortilla chips into a snack that captures the exciting essence of Hispanic snack foods through the shape and flavors you would find in Latin American cuisine,” says Ram Krishnan, vice president of marketing, Frito-Lay North America, in a press release. “The Doritos Dinamita product line truly accomplishes that, offering consumers everything they love about traditional Doritos tortilla chips, but with a spicy, new twist.”

Doritos Dinamita rolled flavored tortilla chips were initially launched in select markets in the Midwest, Texas and the western U.S., but are now available at Walmart stores nationwide. A 4-oz. bag has a suggested retail price of $1.49, while a 9.25-oz bag sells for $2.99.

Doritos’ cousin, Tostitos, meanwhile, received a new team member in May—Tostitos Thins tortilla chips. Available exclusively at Target stores nationwide for a limited time, the tortilla chips are thinner and lighter textured than regular Tostitos tortilla chips and come in two flavors, Lime & Salt and TexMex.

Tostitos Thins tortilla chips are made from stone-ground corn for a light, crispy texture and lightly dusted with special seasonings to create the two authentic flavors, which, according to Frito-Lay, can stand on their own or be paired with dips and appetizers. An 11-oz. bag has a suggested retail price of $3.99.

The flavor factor

But snack Olympian Frito-Lay isn’t the only manufacturer introducing flavorful and better-for-you tortilla chips in response to consumer trends and demand. “One emerging trend we are seeing is consumers are looking for authentic, ethnic flavors in their snacks that are extreme and intense,” explains Jeff Roberts, marketing manager at Snak King Corp., City of Industry, Calif. “Our El Sabroso tortilla lines are bringing that flavor punch to the category with our newly released Baja Limon flavor.”

Introduced in February, El Sabroso Baja Limon Tortilla Chips join other flavors in El Sabroso’s MSG-free tortilla chip line, including Salsitas, spicy salsa-flavored tortilla rounds, and Guacachips, guacamole-flavored tortilla chips.

“At Snak King, we are 100% committed to developing not only healthy snacks, but ones that taste good as well,” says Roberts. “We are aggressively working to develop more nutritious snacks that have some functional components as well. We understand this is where the industry is moving, and we are aiming to be the leader with our The Whole Earth Brand. Moms are going to be happy with this, since it is better-for -you, but, at the same time, teens and kids are going to be satisfied because [the products] will taste great.”

Snak King’s The Whole Earth brand offers Artisan Baked Pita Chips, Organic Kettle Corn, Garden Harvest Veggie Chips and Really Seedy Multigrain Tortilla Chips, which feature seven seeds and grains, including whole grain brown rice, golden flaxseeds and Chia seeds. “[They] are the direction in which we are moving as a company,” says Roberts. “Many other healthy, tasty combinations [are] in the development stage for new product launches.”

Pop star

Classic Foods, maker of Kettle Classics potato chips, is also committed to taking tortilla chips in a healthy direction. To that end, the Irvine, Calif.-based company introduced its one-of-a-kind tortilla chip brand, Poptillas, in May. The light, crispy snacks deliver bold flavor with up to 25% less fat than regular tortilla chips because they are popped, instead of fried.

Classic Foods describes the actual Poptillas eating experience this way: “At first bite, Poptillas will feel like a flavored piñata exploded in your mouth, and your taste buds are there to reap the tasty rewards!”

“We wanted to give snack-lovers the savory taste they crave without the worry of adding inches to their waistline,” adds Sam Kilgore, Classic Foods’ director of QA and Innovation. “This is the next generation of tortilla chips that is sure to become a household favorite.”

Poptillas popped tortilla chips are made with whole grains and contain no cholesterol, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fat, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial flavors or colors or gluten. They come in three flavors: Yellow Corn, lightly salted and ready for dipping; Nacho Cheese, cheesy with a hint of spice; and Salsa Verde, spicy, zesty and tangy. The product arrived in specialty and large grocery chain stores in June. A 4-oz. bag has a suggested retail price of $2.99.

If Poptillas’ unique look doesn’t grab consumers’ attention, its packaging will. “We wanted the packaging to entice a broad demographic,” says communications manager Tracy Thomas. “It’s fun, playful and flavorful. Consumers today take the time to read the labels, so we put the nutritional benefits on the back of the bag, allowing us plenty of room on the front to educate the consumer on this new and innovative product.

“Today’s consumers demand more from their snacks. They already expect a clean ingredient description, so it’s not enough to say that your product is made with all-natural ingredients. They want something that is new, innovative, better-for-you and, of course, tastes great. We kept all these things in mind when developing Poptillas.”

“Our research shows that tortilla chips saw the greatest dollar losses in 2011,” Thomas sums up. “However, this loss was more than made up for by the ‘natural’ tortilla chip category’s significant dollar gain. Also, ‘better-for-you’ snack products continue to be in high demand.”