In an attempt to win the snack food dollars of Canada's largest ethnic groups and address a desire for stronger flavours, Frito Lay Canada Inc. is launching a new line of Asian-inspired potato chips and snacks.
Bags of wasabi- and spicy-curry-flavoured potato chips will be hitting grocery store shelves in Toronto and Vancouver this month, supported by a targeted marketing campaign in Chinese-language newspapers and television stations.
Canada's biggest snack company, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., needed to strike a balance between authentic Asian flavours and the taste comfort levels of Canadians, according to Dale Hooper, Frito Lay Canada's vice-president in charge of brand marketing.
"[In Asia]they have a plethora of different snacking options - nuts, meats, those kind of things are much bigger from an Asian perspective. So the challenge for us was to find the perfect intersection between the flavours and tastes they like and something Western, which is the potato chip."
Chips account for more than 50 per cent of Canada's $1.1-billion salty snack food market. Market research firm NPD Canada says 32 per cent of Canadians eat potato chips at least once a week and over half the sales are "regular" or plain-flavoured chips.
Very little research exists on the snacking preferences and habits of ethnic consumer groups, said Marion Chan, NPD's food and beverage director. However, Ms. Chan said all Canadians are starting to seek out more exotic flavours.
"Intense flavours really resonate with 18- to 24-year-olds who are large potato chip consumers," she said.
In April, Frito Lay will launch it's own version of shrimp chips. The Styrofoam-like morsels, which are often served in Thai restaurants, represent a more traditional Asian snack offering for the company and a bigger manufacturing challenge.
"Potato chip flavours are actually easier than the shrimp chips. We didn't make these before," Mr. Hooper said.
Frito Lay created and tested roughly 40 different chip flavours including seaweed, cucumber and green tea before choosing wasabi and spicy curry.
If the Asian products sell well in Toronto and Vancouver, Frito Lay is hoping to eventually take them national where they will likely face a much tougher challenge outside the ethnically diverse urban centres.
"There are Canadians who don't know what wasabi is, so we'll teach them. This may be the first time some people may learn about it," Mr. Hooper said.
The products may even encounter some resistance in cosmopolitan Toronto and Vancouver.
"It's going to be fairly adventurous for some people," Ms. Chan said. "The average Canadian has very straightforward tastes."
In the Greater Toronto Area alone, South Asians annually spend $12.6-billion on retail goods and services and Chinese consumers spend $12.2-billion, according to Prasad Rao, a partner at Rao Barrett and Welsh, a Toronto advertising firm that specializes in multicultural marketing.
"I think the communities will want a lot more," said Mr. Rao, who added that the tastes of Asians and South Asians have been largely underserved by mainstream food companies.
"Both these communities are very heavy snackers," he said.
Ahead of the Asian flavour line launch, Frito Lay began targeting Chinese consumers with Mandarin television and print ads for its regular and Stax chips. Mr. Hooper said the marketing resulted in stronger sales and better brand awareness for Stax in Asian communities.
"This is a strategy. We'd like to be the best at this in Canada and then we'd like to ship it around the world. If you look at the West Coast in the U.S., Asian consumers are huge. We think we can be the centre of excellence for North America on something like that."