You can add Cheetos Mac ‘n’ Cheese to your list of pandemic comfort foods.
The new PepsiCo product comes in three flavors — Bold & Cheesy, Flamin’ Hot and Cheesy Jalapeño. It will be sold at Walmart in boxes and single-serve cups and will be available beginning on Saturday.
For Pepsi (PEP)Co, the product is a way to capitalize on new consumer habits and break into a new category. It also allows the company to marry products from two of its brands: Quaker, which makes pasta under its Pasta Roni label, and Frito-Lay, the producer of Cheetos.
Because of the pandemic, more people are eating at home. For PepsiCo, that has translated into growth across its products. Sales of Cheetos, Tostitos and Fritos all grew by double digits in the second quarter, according to the company. Quaker also experienced growth during the quarter.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth in meal solutions” like Rice-A-Roni, said Kristin Kroepfl, chief marketing officer for Quaker Foods North America. And, she added, customer research shows that most people plan to continue eating at home even after the pandemic passes. “We believe there’s a long term opportunity here,” she said.
Those consumer habits accelerated the launch of the product. But it was in the works before the pandemic, Kroepfl said.
The Quaker and Frito-Lay teams started thinking about launching a Cheetos mac and cheese product back in January. The idea, Kroepfl said, came from a “Cheetos cult” concoction. Die-hard Cheetos fans often post unique recipes online that incorporate Cheetos in new ways. Fans were already making a DIY version of a Cheetos mac and cheese, and PepsiCo seized on the idea.
“Recipe searches for Cheetos are up 192% year on year,” Kroepfl said. “We embraced that insight.”
Cheetos has already begun expanding from chips into other foods, said Rachel Ferdinando, chief marketing officer for Frito-Lay North America. In January, Frito-Lay announced Cheetos Popcorn, and last year the brand partnered with KFC for a limited time on a Cheetos sandwich. The mac and cheese product marks another extension of the brand.
PepsiCo isn’t the only big brand experimenting with a classic product. Kraft Heinz (KHC) launched a new campaign encouraging consumers to eat its mac and cheese for breakfast.