The mix of salty snacks and sweet snacks is one of the latest food fads the marketing departments of major food corporations have been trying to convince consumers they should be engaging with.
It’s nothing new: Trail mix, Chex mixes and chocolate-covered pretzels and peanuts have been around for decades, though mostly produced on a smaller scale by non-ginormous companies.
Despite the precedence, the Lay’s chocolate-covered potato chip unveiling has been a marketing home run, which today means a lot of people mocked it or praised it in social and traditional media.
The rollout was as a small-batch tease (Exclusive! Limited edition!) through Target, also a fundamental tactic of a successful modern-day marketing campaign to a consumer base that needs to be able to take a photo of such “weird” products to post on Instagram.
There’s a sense of shock that comes with hearing about a vegetable in salty chip form coated with chocolate for the first time. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to hearing about the hybridization of two classically unhealthy snacks. It’s like our natural response to ridiculously overindulgent carnival food. It takes us a minute to process the concept of, say, deep-fried “fun size” Snickers bars, re-deep-fried inside of a Twinkie, coated in Bubblicious and stuffed inside of a Turducken, then deep-fried again — if that existed. (And why wouldn’t it?)
Chocolate-covered pretzels got us ready for the coming savory/sweet snack aisle takeover attempt through a gradual rollout, “gourmet” offerings and take-home treats at weddings.
So when Rold Gold and Snyder’s of Hanover unveiled their lines of various chocolate-dipped pretzel flavors like white chocolate and York Peppermint Pattie, we barely threw up in our mouths at all.
And other major snack producers are jumping on the bandwagon, to varying success. The M&M’s “Salty & Sweet” trail mix rip-off combines pretzels (naked and salty), peanuts (more salt) and M&M’s (plain and peanut brands are available), plus small chocolate chip cookies, which brings it all together. Anyone who’s had a homemade chocolate chip cookie knows it’s the faint dash of saltiness that makes them distinct. Likewise, Ritz’s limited-edition fudge-coated crackers exploit the light buttery-sweet twinge of a normal Ritz cracker. (To the extreme!)
The Lay’s chips are excellent, though very heavy and rich. Packaged in a small bag, were they simply Lay’s wavy chips, a normal snacker would finish them off in four minutes. Because of their richness, it would take a pro-championship eater to pull that off with one same-sized bag of the chocolate Lay’s.
There are also flavor catastrophes among the largely delicious savory/sweet offerings. Pringles, which previously earned viral pans across the board for travesties like white chocolate peppermint and pumpkin pie spice seasonal chips, now have a pecan pie flavor (mercifully also only available for a limited time). The chalky Pringles salt dust does not work with the light pancake syrup dust at all. It tastes like a bad college dorm culinary accident, minus the cigarette ash. For this column, even when I taste-test sweet food that isn’t spectacular, I’ll often end up eating way more than I should regardless. I ate two of the pecan pie Pringles and will never eat another, ever. I swear the aftertaste was not completely dissimilar to syrup of Ipecac.
While Googling some press about the rollout of the Lay’s chocolate-covered potato chips, I discovered something that hadn’t crossed my mind. Spokespeople proudly boasted of targeting millennial women with the chips. Young women, apparently, are exclusively driving the savory/sweet phenomenon. Bloomberg Businessweek quoted a Lay’s marketing director as saying the company was playing off of “the increasing popularity of chocolate-covered snacks among our target audience, millennial women. … They are looking for those more indulgent, savory/sweet combinations.”
Though I can only imagine this is the result of extensive market research, I kind of thought that young, male stoners were the primary target. Then I realized the packaging of the Lay’s chips (as well as the Ritz’s fudge crackers) are fairly sleek, not marked-up with sports tie-ins or Monster energy drink coupons or something.
After thoroughly enjoying my journey into the savory/sweet world, I was baffled. Why would men be excluded from marketing efforts? Do women simply have more refined palates, while men will pretty much eat anything you put in front of them?
Stumped, I asked my girlfriend why these companies would ignore just under half of the potential consumer base for their product? Why would women be the primary focus of these campaigns to sell such decadent indulgences?
“Because men don’t have periods,” she answered, without hesitation.