Kate Ferguson

Mostly writing about random things and trying to make movies.

Fun Facts About Cheetos and Some Follow Up Questions I’d Like Answered

cheeto facts

I know you’re probably thinking, hey Kate, why do I need to read your blog post about Cheetos when I can just go and read their entire history laid out on Wikipedia. Well, I already did that.

Realistically you don’t need to read either of these, but we’re here for the fun, and I’m almost certain that my blog post will have more fun anecdotes thrown in than Wikipedia does. No offense to them. They have a system that works. I have mine. So if you’re going to intake this info in any way, you might as well do it here. Thank you for being here.

First off, I’d like to ask you the very important question that first brought me to researching Cheetos in the first place:

Do you even know what a Cheeto is?

(If you’re time traveling and reading this prior to 1998, you might better know the snack name as the branding was stylized then, the Chee-to.)

What is a Cheeto

A Cheeto is corn. It’s classified in some corners of the snack world as a cheese curl/popcorn. That’s not really how I would describe it, but fine. The snack industry is certainly not my expertise. I’m just a hobbyist.

If you’re still not sure why you should care about Cheetos or their massive success, I’ll tell you why. They’re doing something right. The globally loved cheesy cheese curl that is Cheetos makes Frito-Lay and it’s parent company PepsiCo somewhere around $4 billion a year in annual retail sales.

That’s a lot of dollars and a lot more Cheetos. As someone who works in branding and marketing—and more specifically, in storytelling—what a treat to unravel. How did this happen?

Is it pure deliciousness and the addictive nature of cheese x crunch? Or is something more, like an endless marketing budget?

Let’s Talk Taste: Cheetos Flavors

Everyone’s favorite Cheetos flavor, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, (if you’ll let me speak for all of us here), was invented by a janitor who specifically observed that the brand did not have any products targeting Latinos.

Richard Montañez saw a missed opportunity and decided to act on it. We thank him for that. It was a great idea for a product that ensnared all of us. We very much love breathing fire and staining our fingertips red.

I’m very interested to hear more about how all of this went down. I’m curious if Mr. Montañez straight-up scheduled a meeting to pitch this genius idea, or if it discussed in passing and caught the fateful wings of spicy flight. Because I’m still trying to figure out how to schedule pitch meetings myself.

Also, I must know, did Frito-Lay/PepsiCo handsomely reward Mr. Montañez for the flavor idea that the Washington Post would ultimately call a “cultural phenomenon?”

I did some more research, and as it turns out, Mr. Montañez did in fact just call up the CEO with his new idea, and now he’s an executive at PepsiCo.That’s called making sh*t happen.

Fox Searchlight is also reportedly making a movie of this incredible story, which will be called, wait for it…’ Flamin’ Hot.’ In 2019, Eva Longoria reportedly signed on to direct.

That’s all we know about that, so hold your film-related questions for now. Although this might be a good time ponder whether anyone was prepared for the day that rapper Lil Xan would claim that eating too many hot Cheetos ripped his stomach and sent him to the hospital? He called the snack, and I quote, “one hell of a drug.”

That’s a slightly different vibe for the phenom. I’d love to know how Frito-Lay/PepsiCo’s PR team handles such matters. Was this a setup? A perceived tarnish to squash? Just a weird of case of “no press is bad press”? Did Lil Xan impact the sales of Cheetos in any way?

Frito-Lay/PepsiCo, feel free to reply at your earliest convenience. You can make out my letter to Curious Kate. Throw in some of your hottest Cheetos while you’re at it. Maybe the baked ones, which I didn’t even know existed until now.

(I couldn’t find a single fair use image of Lil Xan and Cheetos, so, sorry about that.)

Now, there are not just regular cheesy Cheetos and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos out there. No. That would be ridiculously limiting for a snack conglomerate that cashes in on the guarantee that you’ll need more snacks endlessly every day for all of time.

There are, as it turns out, 21 different types of Cheetos in North America alone, and in addition to that, the snack is also sold in different regional varieties in 36+ countries. (Wikipedia says “over 36 countries.” What does “over 36” mean? 37? 40? 36 at the time of writing but could be 37 any day now? That sounds like how we might politely describe someone’s age in a casting breakdown. “Ethnically ambiguous, over 36.”)

Australia already had a rough year* with the fires so I feel kind of bad saying this, but the only type of Cheetos they have over there is a flavor called “Cheetos Cheese & Bacon Balls.”

I mean, sure, those are probably delicious and perhaps even more so while being munched in the outback. But a little heavy for a snack, no? A bacon ball? That just hits me as so far beyond a cheese curl. But it’s nothing compared to some of these other countries.

**I wrote this before we entered a global pandemic, so realistically everyone is having a rough year. Sort of changes the way my Australia empathy reads there.

Let’s talk about the Cheetos flavor in Pakistan called “Ocean Safari.” It begs a few questions. We’re probably talking fish sauce here, but the safari reference throws me into daydreams of a group activity. Maybe even hopping on the Submarine ride at Disneyland. This has gone beyond snacking.

What exactly are we doing on this ocean safari this garners a tasty taste? Because I smell a submarine. Maybe salt. I do like seaweed.

Let’s now visit the Cheetos of Japan, where the Cheetos flavors bring a spunky youthful energy that sounds like things American kids* tried to make at home in their own kitchens and got in trouble for.

That’s right, I’m talking Pepsi-flavored Cheetos, Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos, and the corn snacks covered in icing that are simply called “Strawberry Cheetos.”

*By American kids I mean me and my friend Stephanie who used to make a weird sugar sludge topping for Graham crackers, and everyone else I knew who mixed all the sodas together to make a “gummy bear” flavored drink at fast-food restaurant soda machines. I just gagged a little.

Meanwhile, back in Anytown U.S.A.: “Bethany! For the last time, what did I tell you about dipping your Cheetos in your Mountain Dew! Cut it out!”

Anyway. China also has flavors like “Zesty Japanese Steak,” as well as my personal favorite (by which I mean least favorite), “Savory American Cream.” Before we get into how much I don’t like the name Savory American Cream, I will say kudos to China’s Cheetos for using fun adjectives. Those I get. But Savory American Cream does not sound like an air-filled cheese curl. It sounds like the title of something that only adults can watch.

This would be a good time to segway into Cheetos branding.

Cheetos Would Not Be Cheetos Without a Cheetos Mascot

Whatever you do, don’t mention that “adult” reference I just made to the first Cheetos mascot, The Cheetos Mouse, because he was specifically branded to speak in an “upper-crust” accent.

That’s right, the early Cheetos Mouse of the 1970s was a posh wealthy mouse, and was therefore really giving off the vibe that he wielded a lot of social and political power back then.

I really doubt that a mouse of such prestigious stature would [admit] that he watched any Savory American Cream. I’d kind of be surprised if he actually ate the stuff at all. But the more modern, and just dripping with cool Chester Cheetah on the other hand…he’s another story. Now that guy is fun.

Just look at the scene on this sweatshirt. Look at how that bad boy cheetah so deviously pours ranch dressing into a mortar of chilis. Powerful stuff.

But there’s not really a contest between a mouse and a cheetah, is there? Don’t tell Mickey* I said so.

**I don’t know why Disney keeps coming up in this blog post about Cheetos. It just goes to show how powerful they are, doesn’t it. Or maybe it’s subtle foreshadowing about the fact that I will write a blog post about the history of Disney. Who knows.

From 1997 onward, Chester Cheetah’s catchphrase has been “Dangerously Cheesy,” as you probably know very well. It’s so edgy. Especially in comparison to the Cheeto past. Before that catchphrase came to be, the Cheeto’s catchphrase was “It’s not easy bein’ cheesy.”

But as we all know, it most definitely is.

Look, a free stock photo of a wild animal eating a Cheeto.

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