Frito-Lay Uses Times Square For PR Stunt

Frito-Lay recently mounted a kitchen on a marquee in the middle of New York's Times Square. The company was trying to send the message that Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos are healthy.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now NPR's Neda Ulaby is going to take us inside a PR stunt. Recently, Frito Lay mounted a kitchen on a marquee in the middle of Times Square. They were trying to send the message that Fritos, Cheetos, and Doritos are healthy.

NEDA ULABY: The marquee of the Hard Rock Hotel drips with art nouveau detail and it's outlined in red neon. Frito Lay has rigged up a tiny temporary test kitchen right in the middle. This open air second story perch puts Frito Lay's executive chef at eye level with tourists chugging past on double-decker buses.

Mr. STEPHEN KAHLIL (Executive Chef, Frito Lay): I like to ride here and throw bags of chips at them no, for them.

ULABY: Stephen Kahlil recently spent a week on his feet in this cramped pop-up kitchen, making recipes promoting the natural wholesomeness of Frito Lay products.

Mr. KAHLIL: We're not hiding anything. We're pulling back the curtains, we're letting everybody see the flavor kitchen.

ULABY: Meaning a stovetop, an oven, and celebrities. Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi appeared to make a promotional video in the rain.

Ms. PADMA LAKSHMI (Top Chef): I'm in a leaky tent here in Times Square.

ULABY: Frito Lay is trying to promote its claim that fully half of its products are all natural: no artificial colors, flavors or things you can't pronounce. Frito Lay's PR director, Chris Kuechenmeister, swears this tiny kitchen is not unlike visiting the company's 6,000-square-foot test kitchen in Plano, Texas.

Mr. CHRIS KUECHENMEISTER (PR Director, Frito Lay): What we're hearing is consumers are interested, more than ever, in where their food is coming from and how their food is created. And we thought, why not bring that process to life for consumers in a place that brings the flavors of America together, and Times Square seemed like a perfect fit for that.

Mr. KAHLIL: Free chips from Frito Lay, all natural, free chips from Frito Lay.

ULABY: Still, this scene, with guys dressed as chefs on the street handing out snacks does not really evoke the trend-setting, green market, field to city scene that's become a national phenomenon.

Unidentified Woman: Like here we have a great example tomato and basil, tomato and basil chips...

ULABY: The week-long promotion involved bringing people off the street to try recipes while cameras beamed it on the giant screens flanking Times Square and on Facebook, where they looped in people playing Farmville. Frito Lay's PR director, Chris Kuechenmeister, says this strategy is more meaningful than a regular commercial.

Mr. KUECHENMEISTER: The flavor kitchen in Times Square is the next expression of how we approach our consumers and really look at developing that dialogue and that relationship with them that is a long-term commitment rather than just a one-way marketing message.

ULABY: The company's banking that personal interactions with thousands of consumers in Times Square will pay off. And so far the measurables are not too shabby. During the Times Square promotion, Frito Lay added a million and a half fans to its Facebook page, setting a Guinness book of world records for the most within 24 hours.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "Potato Chips")

Mr. SLIM GAILLARD (Singer): (Singing): Potato Chips, how my mouth just drips, potato chips, how my mouth just drips, crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch, all I want is potato chips. Potato chips, how my mouth just drips, potato chips, how my mouth just drips, crunch, crunch, I don't want no lunch. All I want is potato chips.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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