Today’s snack and bakery market remains as fiercely competitive as ever. The definition of what constitutes a “snack” is tracking an evolutionary course, shifting in step with consumer trends and desires. And traditional category lines continue to blur as truly better-for-you formulation rubrics cross boundaries into historically indulgent areas. It makes for a lively atmosphere, and every aspect of product development—from establishing the target consumer base and ingredient selection to packaging and marketing—adds essential dynamics to maximize a product’s impact.
In my conversations with my friends over at Frito-Lay for this month’s cover story, I was struck with the emphasis on culinary perspective firmly entrenched within the R&D process at the snack giant. I first became acquainted with Chef Stephen Kalil, head of the Frito-Lay culinary innovation center back in the early 2000s when I was the editor of a brand-new publication called CULINOLOGY® magazine, designed to support the discipline of Culinology and the still-young Research Chefs Association (RCA), a group strongly focused on the importance of the culinary arts across every aspect of food.
Back then, Stephen was the director of culinary innovation at Chili’s Bar & Grill, spearheading menu development for the chain. His previous gig was in culinary development at The Cheesecake Factory. He was also on the RCA Board of Directors and would become president of the association in a few short years.
Chef Jody Denton, No. 2 in culinary command at Frito-Lay, has a fine-dining background working with restaurant industry luminaries like Wolfgang Puck, Dean Fearing, Mark Miller, Rick Tramonoto and John Folse, all chefs who have significantly elevated food through their work.
And PepsiCo wanted both Stephen and Jody to build a unique culinary perspective into the largest snack company in the world, Frito-Lay. Today, PepsiCo and Frito-Lay have dozens of chefs on staff. And the unique perspective they bring to the product-development process helps give Frito-Lay a distinctive edge in the market—including foodservice, thanks to Frito-Lay’s groundbreaking development of the Doritos Locos Taco shell, the most-successful new menu item launch in fast-food history.
This is a legacy of ongoing innovation—and one worth paying close attention to.