How Lay's Is Tapping Its Audience For Its Next Big Chip Idea

Lay’s wants your million-dollar flavor.

Cajun Squirrel potato chips anyone? Improbable (and unappealing) as it sounds, someone actually suggested Cajun Squirrel as a new flavor for Lay’s potato chips in England last year. The suggestion was a finalist, although not the winner, of the first "Do Me a Flavor" contest run by Lay’s which invited consumers to create a new Lay’s chip flavor. The chip giant has run flavor naming and defining contests in 15 countries since 2008. A 2012 contest in Thailand produced Spicy Crab. Australia voted in Classic Caesar Salad. But until now, Lay’s has never done such a campaign in the chip’s home country, the USA. The novel campaign comes as Lay’s Potato Chips gets ready to celebrate its 75th birthday next year.

Between now and October, consumers are welcome to go online and propose a flavor. To do that, consumers need to select three ingredients, name the flavor, and write a 140 character description of the flavor that might act as a first draft of marketing copy. Three finalist flavors will be selected in early 2013 and launched into market. After several months, the public will vote on the winning flavor which will be announced next May. The flavor will get a permanent place on Lay’s chip roster. Helping to select the finalists will be a judging panel including actress Eva Longoria, who also owns a restaurant, Beso, in Los Angeles, and Midwest James Beard award winning chef, Michael Symon.

Both Longoria and Symon have also signed on as spokespeople for the campaign and are appearing in ads that began running this month. The winning chipmaker will earn a $1 million prize or 1% of the 2013 net sales of the chip, whichever is higher. It’s a big commitment for Lay’s but Ann Mukherjee the Chief Marketing Officer of Lay’s parent company Frito-Lay says, "If this does that well, it’s more than worth it." Mukherjee notes that flavor selection is a perfect fit for Lay’s because the company has long included consumers in its flavor development process at every step of the process from idea to taste-testing.

But how exactly can a member of the public create a chip flavor? One place to look to get your creative juices going is Facebook. There, consumers can use a "flavorizer" feature inside the Do Me A Flavor contest app, which searches your timeline and suggests flavors and cuisine styles based on restaurants you have attended recently. For instance if you went to a French restaurant this month, the flavorizer might suggest bouillabaisse; if you’ve indicated that you like steakhouses, the tool might suggest a meat-oriented flavor. Lay’s has also worked with Facebook to create a modified version of the Like button called the "I’d Eat that" Button. "There’s a big difference between liking something and wanting to eat it. We wanted something really visceral so people could get excited right away," says Mukherjee. The Facebook app was so popular that it crashed the first day it was available.

Earlier this month Lay’s launched the USA "Do Me a Flavor" contest with a pop-up store in New York’s Times Square that showcased all the past winning flavors from around the world. Mukherjee felt that the pop up store was a perfect way to celebrate the global nature of Lay’s. Most of those flavors will never appear in the United States for a host of reasons, including different palates among people in different regions, differences in food regulations from county to country, and the locally sourced nature of many of the flavors. "When people think of Lay’s they think America, but actually we have some of our strongest audiences around the world," Mukherjee says, "but there are no borders anymore, we all know that. The world is global. Everyone knows that. The same is true for the potato chip."

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