Monday, August 5, 2002, Vol. 116, No. 150

Lays chips are off the ol block for Memphis BBQ

Lays flavor is chip off the Memphis barbecue block

By SUE PEASE

The Daily News

Memphis and barbecue go hand in hand and as of May, potato chips and Memphis barbecue have, too.

By breaking into a bag of Lays potato chips, snackers find a new flavor combination of what Frito-Lay Inc. dubbed one of its Tastes of America. After four months on supermarket shelves, the new flavor Memphis BBQ has proven to be a winner.

As restaurant owner Patrick Neely of Neelys Bar-b-que said, it certainly solidifies that weve got the best barbecue in the country.

The marketing campaign started in May when Frito-Lay teamed up with Miss America 2002 Katie Harman to introduce new chip flavors to celebrate regional tastes of America.

Along with the Memphis flavor, the company also unveiled California Cool Dill. But, starting in November, two new flavors will be crowned to replace the first flavors introduced.

The two new winners are picked from a group of five finalists which consumers have been voting on at Lays.com San Antonio Salsa, New Orleans Cajun Gumbo, Coney Island Hot Dog, Maui Onion and Wisconsin Cheddar.

The Lays Tastes of America program celebrates the uniqueness of different regions of our country, said Regan Ebert, a Frito-Lay marketing director.

Regional flavors are the unique tastes currently sweeping the snack food market, according to the Snack Food Association.

In the 1990s, the trend was low-fat snacks. In the early 2000s it moved to protein snacks. Now the trend is bold flavors, said Tim McCook, Snack Food Association manager of communications.

The bolder the better, McCook said.

And even better in todays chip marketplace is what McCook called boutique-y snacks.

The trend in the industry is bolder flavors and in particular, boutique-y brands, McCook said about taking regional tastes nationwide.

For the snack food purveyors, buying into the newest movement is the key to success.

In the snack food industry, its all about latching onto a trend, McCook said.

Although barbecue flavored potato chips are nothing new, choosing the Memphis region taste is.

No matter which regions barbecue flavor is chosen, Memphians should be proud of their barbecue, McCook said.

You have reason to be proud of your barbecue anytime.

My personal feeling on why they picked Memphis is that there is a certain taste to Memphis barbecue.

Restaurant owner Neely tasted the chips and liked the flavor, because it was reminiscent of the flavors of Memphis barbecue.

Its more like the hickory, Southern flavor we like and enjoy in the region, Neely said.

He attended the local announcement when Frito-Lay unveiled the chip at the Rendezvous restaurant and wasnt sure what to expect, but really enjoyed them.

I was thoroughly proud to be serving barbecue in Memphis. And, a national franchise like Lays thought we that were the best city to display their product using our name.

Its the greatest tribute to Memphis and to the barbecue restaurants in Memphis, Neely said.

While a regional barbecue zing is a fairly new flair to potato chips, barbecue flavor is an old standby.

Barbecue flavor chips were introduced in 1954, McCook said. They are the second most popular flavor.

About 60 percent of consumers prefer plain chips, 15 percent grab the barbecue chips and third (with no percentage given) but declared third by a mile, is sour cream and onion flavor, McCook said.

Local snack food maker Terry Brimhall, president and owner of Bartlett-based Brims Snack Foods, sees the same flavor preference spread in his business.

The companys most popular flavored chips are plain, with barbecue second in popularity.

The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and Brimhall, like the larger chipmakers, said it is important to be innovative and release new products.

The newest spicy novelty for the company is sweet and mild barbecue for its pork rind product.

(Innovation) keeps consumers interested, he said.

Although variety seems to be the spice of life for snack food customers, he sees companies reverting back to the standbys when interest fades.

What youll find happening is often companies come out with what they call variations of a flavor and they really are doing that to capture more shelf space. More times than not, you end up just getting back to your basic flavors, he said.