- Three hundred reservations for a Cheetos pop-up restaurant in New York's Tribeca neighborhood were booked up just six hours after its opening was announced last week, according to The Wall Street Journal. There are currently more than 1,000 people on a waiting list for the pop-up, called The Spotted Cheetah, which serves dishes made with Cheetos and is open for a limited three-day run.
- PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division makes the Cheetos snack, which is being transformed into a variety of dishes, including Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos-breaded fried green tomatoes, Cheetos-topped tacos and even a Cheetos Sweetos-crusted cheesecake. A three-course meal at The Spotted Cheetah costs between $8 to $22.
- The idea to open a Cheetos pop-up restaurant was inspired by recipes consumers shared online, according to a company press release. “The Spotted Cheetah is a fun and delicious way for Cheetos to celebrate a variety of favorite flavors in an upscale and playful culinary setting that will wow our guests,” Ryan Matiyow, senior director of marketing, Frito-Lay, said in the release.
Cheetos are having a major food moment right now. The puffed corn snack first appeared in food-mashups at fast food chains, then trickled down to mainstream restaurants, and finally home kitchens.
Burger King launched Mac n’ Cheetos, a fried macaroni and cheese stick dusted with Cheetos, in June 2016 and brought it back this May. Taco Bell Canada offered a Cheetos Chrunchwrap Slider for a limited time in 2016, as well. Los Angeles restaurants picked up on the trend, incorporating Cheetos in everything from sushi to pizza. Last but not least, home chefs have shared thousands of recipes involving the bright orange snack online, signaling an official return to stardom for Cheetos.
The Spotted Cheetah restaurant is Frito-Lay's response to the surge in interest in its $14 billion snack food. And though it's doubtful that the pop-up itself is turning much of a profit for parent company PepsiCo, this marketing startegy is keeping the product top of mind for consumers, and elevating the snack food — traditionally viewed as a "junky" snack — to gourmet status.
Transforming a food from a stand-alone product into an ingredient in not a novel idea in food manufacturing. Rice Krispies have long had a recipe for their signature marshmallow treats on the box. Now, Kellogg produces both a Rice Krispie Treat cereal and prepackaged treat. Kellogg also transformed their Special K cereal into protein and yogurt bars and crustless quiche.
It’s interesting that there’s a surge of interest in Cheetos when many manufacturers are scrambling to meet consumer demand for healthier options. The strong positive response to Cheetos-inspired innovations reflects simultaneous consumer desire for healthy foods and indulgence products, a mindset of which savvy snack makers are taking advantage.
By sprucing up a legacy brand with a marketing campaign like this, food manufacturers can also bring more interest to a brand without having to invest in product formula innovations. According to research from CircleUp, 61% of large CPG’s innovation goes toward making small changes to existing products, while 39% goes toward making new ones. It will be interesting to see if other snack and dessert makers try to leverage their brands using a similar marketing technique, and how the Spotted Cheetah will benefit overall Cheetos sales.