The Road to Brandweek: Frito-Lay’s Rachel Ferdinando on Gen Z and the State of Snacking

'We entrench ourselves in the culture of our fans'

rachel fernandino frito lay brandweek
Rachel Ferdinando is the svp of marketing at Frito-Lay North America.
PepsiCo.

Frito-Lay might be a decades-old brand, but that hasn’t stopped the snack-food giant from trying bold new tricks. From pop-up gourmet restaurants to snagging spots at New York Fashion Week and offering snackers the chance to create their own Super Bowl-style ads, the company has shown it won’t shirk from the unusual in the name of reaching new audiences.

Ahead of this year’s Brandweek event, going on Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif., Adweek spoke with Frito-Lay North America’s senior vp of marketing, core brands, media and partnerships, Rachel Ferdinando, about the company’s approach to innovation and how it’s tackling the tricky Gen Z market.

How has the state of snacking shifted over the past few years? 
Rachel Ferdinando: We conduct regular research that informs our Frito-Lay U.S. Snack Index, and the trends are constantly shifting. For instance, our most recent survey showed that U.S. consumers are getting more adventurous with their tastes: More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents say they prefer “globally inspired foods and flavors” at least once a month, and three-quarters (76%) like to try flavors from places and cultures that are not their own.

This is just one example of a macro snacking trend that is constantly shifting, and our innovation pipeline and marketing campaigns evolve to support these consumer preferences.

What’s the biggest buzzword in the industry today, and how is your company preparing for it?
Gen Z has certainly come into the spotlight in the last few years. All marketers are looking at ways to reach this new audience that is unlike any that’s come before, and evaluating how to shift strategies to connect with this uber-connected generation. With brands like Doritos and Cheetos, we are hyper-focused on listening to our Gen Z audience and care deeply about what they think; we scour the social landscape to learn and understand. We know they don’t love overt advertising, so for our most recent campaign we removed the Doritos logo from our advertising and instead built the brand with our fans.

How do you tailor your marketing and advertising in the age of rapid consumer feedback?
First, you can invite consumers to co-create and build the brand together. For instance, Doritos has long been the brand that champions emerging adults, providing a platform to give them a voice and a forum for self-expression. Today, we are empowering Gen Z to fuel their own self-expression through an arsenal of activations that speak to their interests and cultural passions like the Doritos Bowl, a competitive gaming tournament putting fans at the center.

Second, we entrench ourselves in the culture of our fans. We champion and reward that consumer experimentation. For instance, our Cheetos restaurants were born because we saw that chefs and consumers alike were experimenting with Cheetos as ingredients in gourmet recipes. The insights we’ve gleaned from listening to our fans have led to some of our most successful campaigns, including this year’s first-ever Cheetos fashion show and salon during New York Fashion Week.

Name one important thing about the Dorito’s brand that you wish more consumers knew.
Our incredible fans are absolutely the best source of breakthrough ideas. With our products, we never stray from the original, but we push flavor and form to ignite passion with our consumers. Our brands’ evergreen relevance presents tremendous opportunity for us, but also an obligation to continue innovating and bringing new ideas forward. We want to create experiences that celebrate and encourage fan love for our brands online and offline. That always starts with listening to what our fans want.

What’s your favorite snack food?
My favorite snack?! I grew up eating Lay’s in the U.K. so I have fond memories of the brand, but honestly, I find it hard to choose just one!

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