For more than a decade, an urban legend has surrounded the creation of the Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos snack. It was a ragged story to the wealth of a janitor at the Frito-Lay factory in Rancho Cucamonga, who came up with the idea for these spicy crisps and presented it to a room filled with executives. Then it became one of the company’s best-selling products, a cultural phenomenon and the subject of rap songs. Some schools even banned it because it was too distracting.
Richard Montañez rose through the ranks at Frito-Lay and after his retirement told his story in a well-paid setting. speech concerts, in two memoirs and in an upcoming Hollywood biopic to be directed by Eva Longoria.
In the end, Montañez lied about his role in developing Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos for years, says Sam dean, economics reporter for the LA Times.
He first said he invented the chip in 2007, Dean explains, in a blurb for a speech. “He has been through many food blogs. It turned into this viral story because it’s such a nice story about this guy inventing spicy products. And it just took a life of its own, honestly. And he kept saying it.
Frito-Lay told the LA Times in a declaration, “None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin ‘Hot test market. … We interviewed several staff who were involved in the test market, and all indicate that Richard was not involved in the test market in any capacity. … That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Richard, but the facts don’t support the urban legend.
After examining the origins of Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos, Dean says the product was based on a regional hot chip found in convenience stores in downtown Chicago and Detroit.
“Frito-Lay is one of the largest food companies in the country, and in this case Frito-Lay takes pride in its sales force on the ground, going from store to store, seeing what is selling, seeing what does not work. … There were competitors, [such as] Jay’s Potato Chips, a Chicago company [that] had a bright red spicy product. And I think the quote from Fred Lindsey is, “they were just blowing off the shelves”. And so Frito-Lay wanted something to compete with [with]. “
Lynn Greenfeld was part of the Flamin ‘Hot development team. Dean says his first assignment at Frito-Lay was to develop the now famous snack.
“She says she came up with the name Flamin ‘Hot. They worked on a bunch of different flavors, did market research on taste testing to get the right level of spice, and McCormick [the spice brand] blended in the Flamin ‘Hot flavor, which is basically the same as we have today. “
He describes Greenfeld’s reaction when he first heard of Montañez: “She was just shocked that more of the premise that Frito-Lay was letting a false story spread so widely in her mind. She thought it was some sort of fluke, so she reached out to the company and was like, ‘Hey, do you know this is happening? I think his main motivation is just to set the record straight. “
Dean points out that aside from claiming he developed Hot Cheeto, Montañez rose through the ranks of Frito-Lay and helped create spicy new products.
“He worked in the marketing and sales divisions and went from a blue collar job to a white collar job. … There was Flamin ‘Hot popcorn, there was Lime and Chili Fritos. He was involved in this marketing campaign which somehow changed the course of his career and got a lot of attention from the management of the company, but it seems it wasn’t Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos.