Frito-Lay’s New Marketing Plan Targets Both Haves and Have-Nots

Snack food company wants both the dollar-store market and high-end consumers.
Whether you're in the market for upscale snack chips or a value brand, Frito-Lay is happy to take your money. (Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Jun 22, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

Healthy food advocates have been pushing hard to get consumers out of the supermarket snack aisles and into the produce section as a way to address our nation’s serious obesity epidemic. Not surprisingly, snack-food companies have launched a counter-offensive, reshaping their marketing plans to lure eaters back.

In fact, Frito-Lay might have been taking notes at the occupy movements around the country. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the company is readying plans to entice the palate of the country’s elite one percent by introducing new products and renewing existing brands like Stacy’s Pita Chips and Sabra.

But they’re not leaving lower-income consumers alone. Company execs hope to lure the remaining 99 percent with dollar-store checkout displays packed with products like crispy, but not exactly nutritionally dense, Taqueros.

Why? Because they’re looking to capture growth markets. That means the very top and the very bottom, because middle market, which is where snacks like Doritos and Lays Potato Chips live, isn’t growing.

Frito-Lay North America president, Tom Greco, calls it the “bifurcation of American snackaholics,” which his chief marketing officer then clarified to mean, “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” writes Stephanie Strom.

One third of adults in the U.S. fit the definition of obese, while childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years. Some companies have taken steps to shed their complicity in the problem. Disney recently announced they’re curbing efforts to market junk food to children, and fast-food chain Subway has begun test-marketing new vegan sandwiches.

But most companies follow the money.

“While the overall $22 billion salty snacks market is losing sales, its $2 billion premium end has grown on average about 7 percent over the last two years, according to Goldman Sachs,” writes Strom. The low-end market expects 4 percent growth.

Over at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a series on “Big Food” shows the growing influence and agenda of multinational food companies.

“Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat, resulting in a stark and sick irony: one billion people on the planet are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight,” write the editors.

In their opening essay, experts Marion Nestle, from New York University, and David Stuckler, from Cambridge University, write, “Big Food attains profit by expanding markets to reach more people, increasing people’s sense of hunger so that they buy more food, and increasing profit margins through encouraging consumption of products with higher price/cost surpluses.”

Sounds like they got a glimpse into Frito-Lay’s personal playbook.