The Law of Frito-Lay

I hope their attorneys don’t send me a letter. Really. I’ve consulted multiple times for Frito-Lay North America in the past. Inside they have a culture that is terrifyingly disciplined, built around 8 billion dollar salty snack brands (will Smartfood be the ninth some day?). Think about it. 8 billion dollar brands in the basically the same salty/crunchy snacking space. They even have a ninth line that is also more than a billion dollars, which offers you single serve bags of the 8 primary brands. Wow. That is profitable folks.

Branding agencies often cite FLNA as a world-class executor. I don’t disagree at all. Yet, the real reason they pulled this inexplicable ‘branding’ feat off is that each of the 8 brands actually has a very distinct, memorable sensory experience. The secret was R&D, not branding. They then used disciplined branding and focused marketing to keep reminding and reminding us of the unique sensory experience that awaits in each bag of Cheetos, Ruffles, etc. until we finally relented, as a society. FNLA’s commitment to singular product focus at the sensory level is what makes them a fantastic model to follow for ANY early stage CPG brand, especially a premium one.

Premium CPG brands began in cheese, wine, beer and ice cream in the 1980s. However, the rise of health foods in the 1990s unleashed a temporary onslaught of horrible tasting products made by naive founders hoping you’d pay a premium just for better nutrition, which is essentially a pure symbolic play for your money. Initially, there was a small audience willing to trade-off mainstream American sensory norms. But the like wave one vegans, they were, and are, weird folks. Not the kind that can generate productive word-of-mouth due to their extremely ideological approach to eating (and consumption more generally).

In 2020, you do NOT have the luxury of selling a crappy tasting rice cracker for 100% more than the Quaker does. Premium CPG R&D has evolved as the co-man ecosystem has now had thirty years to learn how to make tasty foods without tons of synthetic flavor enhancers, preservative, flavor protectors, etc. By focusing on one distinct product form and sensory experience, you have the foundation for above average memorability as a young brand. It can entirely replace marketing expenses in the early years, because word-of-mouth in food especially emanates from a great sensory experience combined, in some cases, with compelling modern symbolism.

Above all, else, Frito-Lay demonstrates the long-term power of NOT building a branded house of products early on, which dilutes the meaning and symbolic power of the brand and makes word-of-mouth worthless.

One brand. One product form. One merchandising category. Build an eight-figure business exponentially by following this proven law.

Dr. James Richardson

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