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  • It seems like you can't go anywhere without seeing Flamin' Hot

  • Cheetos. From food pop-ups to fashion

  • retailers to music videos to makeup tutorials.

  • This whole thing is bizarre to me.

  • Here's how Flamin' Hot went from a janitor's vision to a worldwide

  • phenomenon. This is Suddenly Obsessed.

  • The rise and popularity of Flamin' Hot is unlike anything else we've

  • ever seen in our portfolio.

  • It has a cult-like following that really goes beyond just being a

  • product and a snack.

  • It's actually considered a lifestyle.

  • Since launching Flamin' Hot Cheetos in 1992, Frito-Lay is continuing

  • to expand their Flamin' Hot product line.

  • There are 15 Flamin' Hot snacks from popcorn to Doritos.

  • It's easy to mistake Flamin' Hot's popularity for just another social

  • media trend, but experts say its success is actually a reflection of

  • America's shifting demographics and their desire for more intense

  • flavors. Flamin' Hot's rise started with this man, Richard Montañez.

  • Look, I have a PhD.

  • I've been poor, hungry, and determined.

  • Montañez was a janitor at Frito-Lay when he saw a message from the CEO

  • calling on all employees to act like owners.

  • I started, you know, researching my company, and I saw no products

  • that were catering to Latinos or to the person who loves spices.

  • Montañez grew up in a migrant farming community east of Los Angeles,

  • and even though Montañez says he didn't have a college degree or

  • formal business training, he prided himself on having an eye for

  • innovation. In a lot of Latino neighborhoods like mine that I grew up

  • in we have something that is called the elote man.

  • It's a vendor called the corn man, and he puts mayonnaise, butter,

  • cheesehowever you want itlime, chili.

  • I remember, I whistled and I said, "Let me have two." I'm eating, and

  • I'm thinking, "What could I do?

  • What could I create?" And then I looked at that, and it looked just

  • like Cheeto. I thought, "What if I put chili on a Cheeto?"

  • Montañez called Roger Enrico, Frito-Lay's CEO at the time, to

  • personally pitch his idea over the phone.

  • With the help of his wife, Montañez put together a formal

  • presentation, selling Frito-Lay executives on the promise of an

  • untapped market.

  • Richard's insights into the Hispanic consumer really helped us shape

  • and think about how we should talk to that consumer.

  • That was something that we relied on very heavily.

  • In 1992, the Flamin' Hot flavor was officially launched.

  • Today it's one of the top-selling snack flavors at Frito-Lay, a

  • company that has over 1,100 snacks in its arsenal.

  • The brand added Flamin' Hot peanuts in 1997, then Flamin' Hot Cheetos

  • puffs in 1999, and Flamin' Hot Limón crunchy Cheetos in 2002.

  • Since then, it's released 11 more snacks and even created a Flamin'

  • Hot fashion line with Forever21.

  • Flamin' Hot is actually the number one snack in spicy foods.

  • Flamin' Hot flavored snacks saw a 150% increase in sales from 2018 to

  • 2019. One reason for the spike is the brand's strategic approach to

  • marketing its spicy snacks.

  • Remember, I'm Flamin' Hot and you're Flamin' not.

  • One of the most effective ways to market a snack right now is with an

  • influencer or a celebrity.

  • And you are definitely seeing Frito-Lay play into that.

  • They have musicians who have promoted the product.

  • Chance the Rapper is a big name.

  • He was in the Super Bowl last year with the Backstreet Boys, and they

  • were promoting a Flamin' Hot product.

  • You have Post Malone, who rebranded himself Post Limón to promote

  • Flamin' Hot Doritos. So you're seeing the brand try things and do

  • things in a way that connects with culture.

  • Can't touch this. And that makes it more shareable, and that makes

  • people hunger for the content and then potentially hunger for the

  • product. But more importantly, Flamin' Hot fans are showing

  • enthusiasm for unconventional Flamin' Hot experiences.

  • Mukbang, a video genre that originated in South Korea, attracts

  • millions of viewers who enjoy watching excessive amounts of food

  • being consumed in unusual ways.

  • Flamin' Hot has been a massive success in the Mukbang category on

  • YouTube, with the top post garnering over 20 million views.

  • In 2018, Frito-Lay, opened Flamin' Hot inspired pop-ups in New York

  • and Los Angeles, which quickly sold out while attracting a ton of

  • celebs and fans.

  • But while Flamin' Hot owes some of its popularity to A-list

  • endorsements, fan pages, and clever marketing schemes, there's a

  • quiet but seismic force underlying its elevation from snack food to

  • American pop culture icon: immigration.

  • Our demographics have been changing slowly but surely over time.

  • We've seen a great influx of Hispanics as well as Asians.

  • And when they immigrate to the United States, they bring their food

  • cultures with them, and many of their core flavors are on the spicier

  • side. And so, as they became a bigger part of our population, we

  • noticed that spicy flavors started popping up a little bit more.

  • And our millennial generation is the most willing generation to use

  • these flavors. America's preferences for new flavors are evolving in

  • lockstep with its changing populace.

  • The two fastest growing ethnic groups in America are Asian-Americans

  • and Hispanic Americans.

  • Between 2000 and 2018, the Asian-American population grew by nearly 7

  • 3%. The Hispanic-American population also saw significant growth at 63

  • %. Experts say the explosive growth of these two communities are

  • impacting the types of flavors and ingredients used in restaurants

  • and snacks. What restaurants are buying in big numbers are flavors

  • that reflect their cultures.

  • Aleppo chili peppers, for example.

  • That's up about 25%.

  • Korean barbecue is also about 57%.

  • Habanero mango.

  • All these flavors that are reflective of these two fast-growing

  • demographic groups are what restaurants are serving in greater

  • numbers too. Oftentimes, trends that start in restaurants spill into

  • the snack world. Flamin' Hot chips might have been early in terms of

  • spicy and bold flavors in the snack world.

  • Research shows that the average American consumes 25% more spicy

  • snacks now than they did a decade ago.

  • And when you spread that across 350 million people, that's a lot of

  • spicy snacks.

  • But as appetites for spicy snacks grow, so do health concerns about

  • consuming them. In recent years, schools across the U.S.

  • have banned Flamin' Hot Cheetos due to growing concerns about the

  • snack chip's nutritional value and addictive properties.

  • And when rapper Lil Xan was sent to the hospital in 2018 after

  • consuming too many Flamin' Hot Cheetos, the incident was highly

  • publicized. Cheetos are dangerous.

  • They're one hell of a drug.

  • But are the chips really that harmful?

  • If someone has an underlying condition, like an ulcer, that can create

  • a situation that is very dangerous.

  • In people who don't have that underlying condition, the long-term

  • effects are concerning.

  • With children in particular, they're very vulnerable to this trifecta

  • of sugar, fat, and salt.

  • And so, this is something that really taps into their reward system

  • in a way that you don't see in adults.

  • From the Cheetle to the crunch, Flamin' Hot snacks are engineered to

  • keep people eating.

  • And it works, maybe too well.

  • There's a science to this compulsive consumption.

  • There are five phenomena that we can say are responsible for this.

  • The first one being a phenomenon known as vanishing caloric density.

  • And that's this idea that when we pop these Cheetos into our mouth,

  • they seem to just disappear.

  • That signals to the brain that we haven't really consumed any

  • calories. The second one is a phenomenon called bliss point.

  • And that leads to this idea of getting this trifecta of sugar, fat,

  • and salt and reaching the optimum level of pleasure

  • with each of those things.

  • The third phenomena is sensory specific satiation.

  • The idea that if you have a complex flavor layering, your brain stays

  • excited and wants more.

  • The fourth is a capsaicin endorphin rush.

  • Capsaicin is the chemical in spicy foods that signals to our brain

  • that we're in pain, causing our brains to release endorphins, or

  • feel-good molecules. And finally, there's sonic appeal.

  • That crunch.

  • Crunchiness leads people to believe that an item is fresh, which

  • tricks your body into thinking it's eating fresh foods.

  • As Flamin' Hot sales continue to climb, so are consumers' desires to

  • purchase healthier snacks.

  • And if you think Frito-Lay isn't paying attention to that demand,

  • you're wrong. When it comes to snacks that people might feel a little

  • bit better about eating,

  • Flamin' Hot is still front and center.

  • In 2019, Frito-Lay brought out Flamin' Hot Smartfood, the popcorn

  • brand. So it's paying attention to those people who still want

  • something with a little bit of spice, but want something that's also

  • maybe reduced fat or reduced sodium.

  • But there's a fine line between the actual nutritional value of the

  • snack and aspirational marketing.

  • This is supposed to be a healthier alternative to the Flamin' Hot

  • Cheetos. Looking at the nutrition facts, it's pretty similar to

  • Flamin' Hot Cheetos. So even if it's got maybe 10 calories fewer,

  • people are still craving this item because of how it's been designed

  • and are more inclined to perhaps finish the entire bag.

  • In a statement, Frito-Lay said Flamin' Hot's heat comes from a

  • naturally occurring spice and the amount of heat in one serving size

  • is equal to that of a jalapeño pepper, though they understand why

  • some fans have to consume the snack<