Brie to haggis: The story behind weird potato crisp flavours

From buttered popcorn to prawn cocktail, potato chips seemingly come in any flavour.
From buttered popcorn to prawn cocktail, potato chips seemingly come in any flavour. Photo: Shutterstock

Novel chip flavours are being cooked up all the time, all around the world.

Earlier this year, Smith's released "garlic bread" chips; in the US, Lay's chips announced the launch of their Tastes of America range, which incorporates eight tastebud-tingling flavours, from New England lobster roll to deep-dish pizza. 

In South Korea, you can now choose between cola and yoghurt Pringles. The past roll call of questionable flavours from other brands includes brie, mint, cinnamon bun, cheeseburger, whisky and haggis, venison and cranberry. 

From the vault: A past Smith's flavour.
From the vault: A past Smith's flavour. Photo: Supplied

So what determines the success of limited flavoured chips and why do we love them?

"Food and restaurant trends drive flavours," says research and development director at PepsiCo Australia & New Zealand, Anna Lowndes.

"For inspiration we look at food markets, what people are posting on social media and what chefs are serving up.

"We also look at other countries like the UK, US - and Japan who is known for [its] cutting-edge food innovation."

Special events influence flavours too, Lowndes says.

Smith's served up a lamb-and-mint chip for Australia Day, for example, while Pringles launched its Aussie Favourites range in time for the footy finals, which included a meat pie flavour and chicken salt line. 

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Marketing director for Kellogg's Australia & New Zealand, Tamara Howe, says: "The best snacks are the ones that are fun to eat and bring people together. The footy finals flavours tied in with a key Aussie moment when snacking is top of mind."

"Likewise, the success of a chip flavour is determined by how well the flavour captures the essence of the real thing," she says.

"Our buttered popcorn is very popular because of how well it delivers to the taste cues you expect when you pick up a warm bucket of popcorn at the cinema." 

Consumer feedback is another influential factor. If something doesn't test well, production companies stop and reset their product development. Conversely, a positive consumer response means a promising new product lead. 

"We recently set up a pop-up where consumers could create their own flavour combinations," Lowndes says. "The two most popular flavours - Thai chilli and lime, and slow-roasted chicken and garlic aioli, are now sold nationally."  

Sometimes customers are the creative brains behind a new concept. In 2014, Walkers snack manufacturers set up a competition inviting chip fans to suggest new flavours. 

Finalists pucked from the 1.2 million entries included hotdog with tomato ketchup, cheesy beans on toast, sizzling steak fajita, chip shop chicken curry and ranch raccoon. The overall winner was pulled pork with BBQ sauce. 

Similarly, a 2017 Walkers campaign offered consumers the chance to swap a classic flavour with a popular overseas flavour. Salt & vinegar competed with lime & black pepper (Australia), prawn cocktail went up against paprika (Spain), and smoky bacon battled it out with bacon & cheddar (US).

The classic flavours won. 

Science plays a role in which flavours hit the market, too. 

According to a 2017 study by Cornell University's food science department, our sense of smell plays a significant role in translating food smells into experiences we find either pleasurable or unpleasant. 

Researchers found that the stronger and more familiar the smell of potato chips, the more likely they are to be interpreted as an enjoyable taste. The mixture of psychological familiarity, along with the sensory enhancement of odorants, makes for the success of a chip flavour.  

But not all flavours are met with open mouths - at least when it comes to crackers, that is.

Two years ago, Arnott's was met with consumer backlash for meddling with the flavours of their Shapes range. Fans took to Facebook to express their disappointment at the "bigger and bolder" flavours, pleading with the company to revert to the classics. 

One fan even went so far as setting up a change.org petition, which gained more than 29,000 signatures. 

As one supporter wrote, "I am sick of change, we buy things because we like them - why the need for change I will never understand."

Another agreed: "My family love the original cheddar flavour and can't stand the new ones."

Seems that, for some of us, it's better the flavours we know than the flavours we don't.