Cheetos (formerly styled as Chee-tos until 1998) is a brand of cheese-flavored puffed cornmeal snacks made by Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. Fritos creator Charles Elmer Doolin invented Cheetos in 1948, and began national distribution in the U.S. The initial success of Cheetos was a contributing factor to the merger between The Frito Company and H.W. Lay & Company in 1961 to form Frito-Lay. In 1965 Frito-Lay became a subsidiary of The Pepsi-Cola Company, forming PepsiCo, the current owner of the Cheetos brand.
In 2010, Cheetos was ranked as the top selling brand of cheese puffs in its primary market of the United States; worldwide the annual retail sales totaled approximately $4 billion. The original Crunchy Cheetos are still in production but the product line has since expanded to include 21 different types of Cheetos in North America alone. As Cheetos are sold in more than 36 countries, the flavor and composition is often varied to match regional taste and cultural preferences—such as Savory American Cream in China, and Strawberry Cheetos in Japan.
Cheetos were invented in 1948 by Fritos creator Charles Elmer Doolin, who cooked early test batches in the Frito Company's Dallas, Texas-based research and development kitchen. The cheese-flavored snack sold quickly, but Doolin did not have the production or distribution capacity to support a nationwide launch. This led Doolin to partner with potato chip businessman Herman W. Lay for marketing and distribution, and Cheetos were introduced nationally in the U.S. in 1948 along with a potato product called Fritatos. The success of Cheetos prompted Doolin and Lay to merge their two companies in 1961, forming Frito-Lay Inc. At the time, Cheetos was one of four large snack food brands produced by the company, which had annual revenues of $127 million. Frito-Lay merged with the Pepsi-Cola Company to form PepsiCo in 1965, prompting further distribution of Cheetos outside of North America.
While Cheetos was the first snack food of its kind, competing products in the snack food category have since emerged—including Utz Cheese Curls, Herr's Cheese Curls and WiseCheez Doodles. Most of the competing cheese-flavored snacks are distributed in specific regions of the U.S., and as of 2010 Cheetos remains as the top-selling cheese puff in America.
As of 2011, Cheetos are produced, marketed and distributed under three different PepsiCo operating divisions: PepsiCo Americas Foods (which includes Frito-Lay in the United States and Canada, Sabritas in Mexico and Latin Americas Foods in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela and Peru.), PepsiCo Europe and PepsiCo Asia, Middle East & Africa. PepsiCo also granted a license to the Strauss-Elite company to distribute the Cheetos snack. In 2010, worldwide annual sales of Cheetos totaled approximately $4 billion, making it the 11th-largest PepsiCo brand
Products and distribution
The first Cheetos product was Crunchy Cheetos, invented in 1948 in San Antonio, Texas. Crunchy Cheetos remained the brand's sole product for 23 years until the introduction of Cheetos Puffs in 1971. The baked varieties, otherwise known as Baked Cheetos, became available beginning in 2004. As of 2010, there are 21 different variants of Cheetos snacks distributed in the United States. In addition to the original Crunchy Cheetos, Cheetos Puffs and Baked varieties are sold in alternate shape and flavor variations—including a spicy variety known as Flamin' Hot Cheetos.
Cheetos are among the snack varieties included in the Frito-Lay Munchies snack mix.
With the introduction of Frito-Lay's Natural Line, Cheetos Natural were introduced in the mid-2000s, with all natural ingredients, and natural, and real Wisconsin white cheddar, Cheetos Natural are unique for Cheetos. They accompany others in the Natural line, and are a direct competitor to other natural competitors, such as Pirate's Booty.
Cheetos first entered Brazil in 1976, followed by other countries such as Australia during the 1980s. In 1994, Cheetos became the first American brand of snack food to be made and distributed in China. As the distribution of Cheetos expanded outside the U.S. to include more than 36 different countries, localized versions were produced to conform to regional tastes and cultural preferences.
Frito-Lay conducted extensive testing before settling on flavors for the Chinese market, with ranch dressing, North Sea crab, smoked octopus and caramel being passed up for two flavors: Savory American Cream and Zesty Japanese Steak. These flavors were produced as the result of focus group testing, in which the original Crunchy Cheetos did not test as well. Strawberry Cheetos, a variation of the original Crunchy Cheetos dipped in a flavored icing, are produced and distributed in Japan. In India, Cheetos Whoosh are sold, made of ingredients such as whole grain and vegetables. Also produced in Japan are Mountain Dew-flavored Cheetos. The sole Cheetos product produced in Australia is Cheetos Cheese & Bacon Balls. Cheetos come in all different colors.
In 2015, Cheetos rolled out a limited edition cinnamon sugar-flavored snack called "Sweetos" to US markets. Sweetos was the first sweet snack that Cheetos has released in the brand's 67-year history.
Cheetos are manufactured by blending corn and water. The germ of the corn is removed to prevent spoiling; the germless corn is then ground into cornmeal. Because the cornmeal lacks the nutrients provided by the germs, it is enriched by adding nutrients in order to increase its nutritional value. (Enriched cornmeal is found in the following flavors: Crunchy,Puffs, Flamin' Hot Crunchy, Flamin' Hot Puffs, Flamin' Hot Limon Crunchy, XXTRA Flamin' Hot Crunchy, Reduced Fat Flamin' Hot Puffs, Reduced Fat Puffs,and Cheddar Jalapeño Crunchy.) The mixture is heated under pressure, and then extruded through a die. The texture of the snack is formed as a result of contact with hot air, causing steam in the mixture to expand and creating its characteristic texture. After oven-drying or frying, the product is then tumbled with the desired flavor components (the original Crunchy Cheetos are fried). The process takes approximately 19 minutes and each half hour an in-house lab team inspects and taste-tests each batch. At this point, the result of the inspection is determined by comparing each batch to product sent from Frito-Lay headquarters. Other flavor and format variations such as Cheetos Puffs, Cheetos Paws, Cheetos Twists, Cheetos Balls, and Cheetos Whirls are all finished with a drying stage in large ovens. As of 2010, Frito-Lay has 14 fried-Cheetos plants in 11 states throughout the United States.
Main article: Chester Cheetah
The first Cheetos mascot was the Cheetos Mouse, which debuted in 1971 using the slogans "The cheese that goes crunch!" and "Hail Chee-sar!". The character was phased out around 1979.
The Cheetos brand is commonly recognized by association with its second and current mascot, an anthropomorphic sly, smooth-voiced cartoon cheetah named Chester Cheetah. Chester first appeared in television commercials in 1986, known for concluding Cheetos advertisements with slogans, which have evolved over time. He used both "The cheese that goes crunch!" and "It ain't easy bein' cheesy" as slogans from 1986 to 1997, and then "Dangerously cheesy" from 1997 onwards. In 2003, Chester was first rendered as a computer-generated character in the United State, while continuing to appear in a traditionally-animated form in some other countries where the brand is sold.
Beginning in 2008, Cheetos advertising and promotion broadened in regards to age appeal, with a revised focus on an adult demographic. In this personification, Chester speaks with a mid-Atlantic accent and encourages people to use their Cheetos in acts of revenge or to solve problems. In February 2009, Cheetos was the subject of its first Super Bowl commercial. In the US$3 million, 30 second advertisement, a "loud, chatty woman" is talking on her mobile phone at a restaurant. Chester the Cheetah persuades another customer to toss Cheetos onto the ground, attracting a flock of birds to drive away the obnoxious loud-talking customer. The scenario depicted in this commercial exemplifies the adult-oriented themes of subversion and revenge, which continue to be prevalent in Cheetos advertisements produced since 2008.
On August 15, 2017, Frito-Lay announced the opening of its The Spotted Cheetah pop-up restaurant in New York, with dishes made with Cheetos with chef Anne Burrell. According to the Wall Street Journal, the restaurant's reserve spots quickly sold out.
In popular culture
Cheetos have been the subject of public and media attention on multiple occasions due to the unpredictable shapes that form during the manufacturing process. Cheetos have been found in shapes which resembled the appearance of popular or historical figures. A single Cheeto described as being in the shape of Michael Jackson doing the Moonwalk Dancesold for $35.18 on eBay in the summer of 2009 at the time of Jackson's death, attracting national media coverage in the U.S. A couple who found a Cheetos snack in a shape they described as resembling Jesus Christ nicknamed it "Cheesus" and garnered media attention as a result of their consideration of selling on eBay. In 2016-7, "Cheeto Jesus" and variations thereon became a common nickname for Donald Trump.
- Flamin' Hot Crunchy
- Flamin' Hot Puffs
- Flamin' Hot Limon Crunchy
- XXTRA Flamin' Hot Crunchy
- Reduced Fat Flamin' Hot Puffs
- Reduced Fat Puffs
- Cheddar Jalapeño Crunchy
Note that these are the main flavors available year-round worldwide, there are many other seasonal flavors, as well as differently shaped Cheetos.