When you reach for a snack, do you pick salty or sweet?
Plano-based Frito-Lay North America knows exactly what our palates crave in the coronavirus pandemic.
"Believe it or not in Texas, salty snacks is the number two item in all of grocery stores that was sold during this crisis, right behind toilet paper, believe it or not. And within Dallas, we're seeing a lot of our big core items like Tostitos, Lay's Potato Chips, and these items selling very well," said chief customer officer Mike Del Pozzo.
The latest edition of the company's U.S. Snack Index shows in recent weeks, sales of Lay's Potato Chips are up 32% and 42% for Tostitos Tortilla Chips.
Del Pozzo says early in the crisis, the snack maker had to scale back production by more than 20% and just stick to core items. The company has since gotten almost to full speed, putting more choices back on shelves. And there's one particular flavor Texans will be glad to see.
"The items we see in Texas that I think people really wanted back quickly were a lot of the hot, spicy flavors. They do very well here and probably other places, probably not as well as Texas," Del Pozzo said. "We've since resumed those products. We're like I said up to 95% of our production now, but Texans were really wanting their hot, spicy flavors or what we call intense flavors. That's probably the most interesting statistic."
Right beside products are the people who make, move and sell Frito-Lay products.
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Del Pozzo says in North Texas, delivery trucks run 17,000 routes every day and 500,000 store calls every week. Protecting them in this pandemic is of paramount importance.
"We've obviously had to ensure incredible deep cleaning of our facilities. We've had to ensure PPE for our employees. You're probably seeing them with masks. You see them with vests that ask consumers and customers to respect social distancing. You see them with gloves. And, this is the heart and soul of our company," Del Pozzo said. "Listen, they're out there getting up at 2 in the morning every day to get in and keep the grocery stores full here in Dallas."
Del Pozzo says the part of the brand that serves families at home and keeps them stocked has done very well but other parts of the business have brought challenges and complications.
"The businesses we call away from home. So restaurants, hotels, airlines," he explained. "So obviously, with our supply chain, those distributor partners in those areas, we've had to really work hard to move product around and get it at the right place, and that's been very tricky. Now we are starting to see those platforms start to come back, slowly. Think about convenience stores. People are starting to drive around a little bit more, and as people start to travel and return to some state of normalcy but it's been very complicated."
Even as a new normal settles in, Frito-Lay is certain snacking will be part of it.
That Snack Index the company released this week shows 86% will take snacks to any small group gathering and more than one in three expect more virtual hangouts with friends over the next few months. The Frito-Lay Snack Index also found 85% of respondents say eating their favorite snack makes them feel normal.
"One thing we've heard loud and clear is our products really provide a sense of normalcy and even happiness to people in these times. And so, we're excited to be able to play that role," Del Pozzo said.
Del Pozzo says the company is also excited to announce another big investment in the communities it serves. The PepsiCo Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Frito-Lay parent company PepsiCo, picked Dallas as one of 14 cities for a new initiative.
"Another $7 million specifically to address the hardest-hit cities and communities, and specifically surrounding black and Latino communities," Del Pozzo said. "Dallas would be one of those 14 cities that we would deploy a good portion of that $7 million to, and that could go to relief efforts around food supply, protective gear but also things like education and job training as people come out of what is a difficult environment. And, so we're happy to play that role in a community we're headquartered in."
That new initiative comes on top of a more than $45 million commitment made early in the coronavirus crisis.