Monster Mash

Cronuts, Doritos Locos Tacos lead the flavor-mashing pack, but will Americans ever experience Pepsi Cheetos?

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- Flavor mashing--the melding of two or more unlikely food or beverage components--goes back through generations of home kitchens, where consumer experimentation and personal proclivities yielded concoctions such as ketchup with eggs, peanut butter on burgers and jelly slathered on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Food and beverage companies have taken note by rolling out their own mash-ups. Unlike consumers, who have only a ruined dinner at stake, CPGs are placing million-dollar bets on which eclectic varieties stay the course and which ones run aground.

Thus far, industry participants give the upside to foodservice offerings, where rollouts such as Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos (a taco with a shell made from Doritos), have become a smash hit. And now there are even Doritos Locos Tacos Doritos. Some CPG brands such as Oreo and M&M’s have turned their products into mere vehicles for favorite flavors, such as Creamsicle Oreo and Birthday Cake varieties of both sweets.

But for every Locos Taco, there’s a flavor-mashing experiment that doesn’t resonate with the mainstream. “It’s hard to replicate the taste or mouth feel when you combine two seemingly disparate flavors,” says Marcia Mogelonsky, director of insights, food and drink for Chicago-based market-research firm Mintel.

“People will try these offerings, but give up on some of them quickly because there’s something lost in translation. Plus, people who seek less artificial flavoring and more natural ingredients see that when it comes to apple-pie-flavored gum, there’s nothing natural about it,” Mogelonsky tells Convenience Store Products.

The jury is out on how high a ceiling new offers such as Dr Pepper-flavored beef jerky and Pepsi-flavored Cheetos, which recently debuted in Japan, will have. And no doubt, many of these items are meant to be flashes in the pan to generate buzz, not become longstanding staples.

Other cross-pollinations gaining buzz include Cronuts, which combine croissants and doughnuts, and a Ramen burger featuring a hamburger cradled between two stacks of fried soup noodles. Jenn Elleck, director of trade marketing and communications for Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association, says flavor mashing is part of the “maturing and curious consumer. We’re in a flavor revolution, and in the future you can look for more uncanny and unexpected pairings.”

Winning flavor mashings still recognize a consumer need state, and CPG companies must be careful not to become too entranced by this opportunity just for the sake of the buzz.