The New York Post reported on Monday that PepsiCo is working on a new “lady-friendly” version of Doritos. The company’s market research has apparently revealed that women prefer not to crunch loudly and lick Dorito dust off their fingers in public, and they generally decline to upend the near-empty bag of chips and dump the flavor crumbs into their mouths. They also like to be able to carry their snacks in their purses. In response, PepsiCo is developing a snack chip that will be less crunchy and messy to eat.
The Post’s article felt as perfectly engineered to troll as a triangular Dorito chip is engineered to please. The objections to “Lady Doritos,” as the internet quickly dubbed them, were many and obvious. Women already enjoy regular Doritos! The very notion of chips “for her” is condescending and absurd! Less-crunchy chips are by definition inferior! The new Doritos are unlikely to solve the problem of pay inequality!
As a woman who loves Doritos, the backlash surprised me. I do want a single serving of chips that I can throw in my purse without worrying it will get crushed. I enjoy the intense flavor of Dorito dust as any other nacho-cheese-blooded American, but Nooyi is right that I don’t love licking it off my fingers in public. Admittedly, the low-crunch idea seems confusing but I fully trust America’s best snack designers to make it appealing in ways I don’t yet understand.
It is relevant to note that we are currently living in a golden age of chips. Once-obscure flavors like salt-and-vinegar and Hint of Lime are pantry staples, and major brands are experimenting with the likes of Sriracha and fried green tomato and steak. Here in rural New England, a seasoning-averse land where someone once warned me that a sun-dried tomato-flavored Triscuit was “quite spicy,” I can easily purchase chips that taste like dill pickles, Old Bay, and pepperoncini peppers. Doritos themselves are no longer limited to classic options like Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch, but come in DINAMITA Chile Limón and JACKED Ranch Dipped Hot Wings. The future is here, and you’re going to need a glass of water.
I will be the first to admit that not all of these products, to use an industry term, “taste good.” But some of them taste great! We won’t know what the next salt-and-vinegar is until we try some beer-‘n-brats along the way. And this profusion of options is all the more reason to trust the talented snack technologists who have led us here. So far, they have an unbroken track record of making me want to eat chips. Can I, personally, imagine enjoying a crunchless chip? No. But 10 years ago, I couldn’t imagine a tortilla chip shaped like a scoop, either. While internet naysayers recoil in fear, I put myself in the proven hands of the visionaries at PepsiCo.
The “Lady Doritos” kerfuffle is also a good example of how the Twitter outrage industry can make a buffet out of thin gruel. The Post story was a reprint of a story that first ran in the U.K. tabloid The Sun (“CRUNCH DECISION: Doritos firm to launch crisps for WOMEN because they don’t like crunching loudly or licking their fingers, boss reveals”). The Sun, in turn, drew on a recent long interview Nooyi had given to Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics Radio, in which she discussed not just the company’s snack-chip research, but the dearth of female CEOs and her own experiences in leadership. Nooyi doesn’t use any form of the word “ladies,” let alone “Lady Doritos”—that seems to have been the Post’s addition. If you read carefully, Nooyi doesn’t even claim that PepsiCo is developing new Doritos, just that observing the different ways men and women eat those particular chips influenced some kind of future product line. “It’s not a male and female [thing] as much as (asking) are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently,” she tells Dubner. “Not just on packaging colors, but to go through the entire cycle, and say, ‘All the way to the product in the pantry, or how it’s being carried around, or how they eat it in the car, or drink it in the car, what should be the design of the product, the package, the experience, so that we can influence the entire chain?’ ”
By the end of the day, Doritos itself was denying it had any plans to change or expand:
Meanwhile, critics on Monday were comparing “Lady Doritos” to the disastrous rollout of “Bic for Her” pens in 2012. But Nooyi didn’t say she wanted to stick the same old chips in a pink bag. She wasn’t lazily spitballing about women’s chip-eating habits based on stereotypes, or arguing that no women enjoy Doritos in their current form. She was talking about her company’s research into how women actually use their products, and about how it is responding to those behaviors and preferences with new products, which will succeed or fail based on how well they work. Isn’t that exactly what we want companies to do?
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