What began as an underground society of culinary innovators is now taking another major step into the mainstream.
For years, home chefs have been using Cheetos in their mac and cheese recipes. When the brand set up its pop-up restaurant, the Spotted Cheetah, in New York City back in 2017, sure enough, there was Mac n’ Cheetos on the menu.
Now Cheetos is making it official by launching an officially new product line of mac and cheese.
The new Cheetos Mac n’ Cheese will be available in three flavors: Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot, and Cheesy Jalapeño. The products will initially be available exclusively at Walmart starting on August 6, and then rolling out to other retailers next year.
Rachel Ferdinando, senior VP and chief marketing officer at Frito-Lay North America, says the new product line is a direct result of how fans of the Cheetos brand have been creating with their products. “We’ve seen incredible culinary creativity from our Cheetos fans—or Cheetos cult, as we call them—throughout the years,” says Ferdinando. “They’ve taken our products and made some incredible mashup recipe dishes, and mac and cheese is one we’ve seen be very popular. We even created marketing campaigns around this organic behavior. We had the Spotted Cheetah restaurant, followed that up with the Flamin’ Hot Spot, so this has been in the DNA of the brand.”
It’s just the latest extension of the popular brand, after launching Cheetos Popcorn earlier this year. What makes this one different is both in how the brand worked with fans to make it happen, and how two divisions of PepsiCo are collaborating on it.
“I’d say this launch is a perfect marriage between Quaker’s capabilities in pasta, with Pasta Roni being a leading brand for us, along with the Cheetos (brand) equity,” says Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer for Quaker Foods North America. “The process was a bit different. We did virtual co-creation with key influencers, who were naturally experimenting with Cheetos in their food. We wanted to hear what they had to say, then design the execution based on that.”
The new mac and cheese is coming at a time when the growth statistics and data are pointing to untapped potential demand. Ferdinando says that in April alone, the brand saw online searches for Cheetos recipes jump 192%. For Quaker, Kroepfl says its side-dish business was growing by 3.8% pre-COVID, and by 25% now, with 75% of consumers saying they will continue to make more meals at home post-pandemic.
But the real secret ingredient for both the new product and its potential success is the brand’s enthusiastic fans.
“This cult-like nature of fandom has given us an opportunity to not only tap into their ideas, but also to spread the word,” she says. “We really think about how we feed that cult. What we found is that there is so much love and so much natural behavior, when you give people the opportunity to create on your behalf, you find that sweet spot between how you build the brand in the right way and how you create a kind of inside aspect to being inside the cult, and that’s something we do daily with our content and activations, and now it’s influencing our innovation.”