Pepsi apple pie. Coke chicken jerky: food giants’ new flavors

pepsi peeps mark wilson

One thousand 5 hundred and counting. That’s what number of flavors Marie Wright, chief world flavorist at Archer Daniels Midland Co., has developed for her extremely secretive purchasers: the largest food manufacturers on the planet.

She despatched me a care package deal showcasing a few of her crew’s work, which features a Coca-Cola chicken jerky. When is the final time I even drank an actual Coke? I ponder. A decade?

I take my first chunk, and the sticky candy taste of this jerky is precisely like a sip from a freshly cracked-open can of Coke. Then the Coke taste provides approach to smoke and salt. It’s okay, I feel, minutes earlier than I understand that I’ve completed the entire bag.

Corporations like PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, and Anheuser-Busch are embracing wild new flavors that appear novel and excessive. However upon nearer inspection, they’re really simply remixing flavors we already know and love. These model mashups have been on-trend for a while, however COVID-19 has cemented the follow. Lockdown supplied food and beverage corporations an unparalleled captive viewers of individuals starved as a lot for consolation as they’re novelty.


Name it the new nostalgia. The flavors themselves aren’t recent, however they’re positioned into shocking contexts to supply a mix of consolation and journey. Generally these flavors are unusually intriguing, like Pepsi Apple Pie cola, and typically they’re nothing wanting a gag-worthy food troll, like Pumpkin Spice Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Through the pandemic, Wright says corporations are coming to her in search of shocking taste combos: “We’ve notably seen a few of our purchasers who usually keep a little bit extra conservative are [now] comfortable to be a little bit extra adventurous [if] not wildly outdoors of the field.”

The businesses I spoke to agreed. “Everyone is simply seeking to keep and make tomorrow a little bit totally different than yesterday. You’re in the identical location, carrying the identical factor,” says Todd Kaplan, VP of the Pepsi model. “As a result of everybody’s world has gotten so much smaller, from journey and eating places being closed, belongings you’d usually do to maintain your ongoing ritual extra fascinating, it’s a must to carry extra of that into the house.”

Food corporations say that this new nostalgia isn’t going anyplace quickly. However will we nonetheless be craving consolation when the world reopens?

[Photo: Mark Wilson]

The new nostalgia

In entrance of me sit 4 totally different Pepsis: Pepsi “Sizzling” Chocolate; Pepsi Peeps (pink); Pepsi Peeps (yellow); and an ominous-looking drugs bottle with a hand-printed label that reads “Pepsi Apple Pie Promo.”

I crack the new chocolate taste. It smells like winter. As I take a sip, I swear that this Pepsi is silkier than the unique, with a thick chocolate that covers my tongue. Then the bubbles begin to pop and there it’s, the Pepsi aftertaste I do know.

Pepsi Peeps? The lovable, 7.5-ounce cans beckon me with their excellent pink and yellow hues. They scent like Pepsi. They style like sugar. Then sugary Pepsi. Then once more, perhaps it’s my thoughts taking part in methods or filling within the gaps? (I can’t inform the distinction between pink and yellow, which can also be similar to actual Peeps.)


As for Pepsi Apple Pie, this was the providing I used to be most skeptical about, and but, it’s completely probably the most spectacular feat of taste engineering within the group. The flavour begins with apple, transitions to cinnamon, and circles into Pepsi. Then the flavour reverses, again to cinnamon after which to apple! And someway, that’s not gross.

All 4 of those Pepsi flavors are what the business dubs LTOs, or “limited-time choices,” that are short-term merchandise which will final just a few months on retailer cabinets, or solely a single marketing campaign on social media. It’s food as advertising and marketing.

“It’s nearly like a sneaker drop sneaker,” says Kaplan of those Pepsi LTOs. Kaplan is, as a facet notice, a self-ascribed “whole sneakerhead” himself.

LTOs are necessary to the business, and have been notably necessary throughout COVID-19, as a result of they’re basically extra notable spin-offs from large, always-successful manufacturers. They’re bolder, sillier, and designed to get your consideration and lightweight up social media. However they aren’t random by any means.

As Kaplan explains, Pepsi Apple Pie was anchored in modern tradition when it launched as a Twitter promotion round Thanksgiving in 2020. Folks had been baking through the pandemic whereas watching exhibits like The Nice British Bake-Off and Nailed It!

“There’s that cultural reality,” Kaplan says. Baking plus Pepsi made sense. Since apple pie is America’s dessert—and Kaplan claims folks already drink Pepsi with apple pie (Do they actually? Earnest query.)—mashing up the 2 made sense. Regardless of by no means hitting precise retailer cabinets, Pepsi Apple Pie garnered greater than 1,000 tales within the media, producing billions of impressions, in accordance with the corporate.

What about unit gross sales? Pepsi didn’t promote it; Apple Pie cola was despatched to followers as a part of a hashtag problem. However whereas Pepsi Apple Pie was a advertising and marketing play, loads of these nostalgic releases are aimed toward producing gross sales, too. The business is embracing each approaches in full pressure.

Kraft Pumpkin Spice Macaroni & Cheese. [Photo: Kraft]

The acquainted system

With Pepsi Apple Pie, we additionally start to unpack the system behind the new nostalgia.

Cereals, like these of Normal Mills, have offered nicely through the pandemic, leaping 7% as folks flip again to acquainted flavors. That’s nostalgia.

To create the new nostalgia, nonetheless, you begin with a identified taste or model: Pepsi. Then you definately take one other identified taste: apple pie. Each are extraordinarily acquainted to customers, to the purpose of being boring. However collectively? It’s one thing adventurous that you just simply need to attempt.

“For probably the most half when somebody makes a purchase order in retail, they nonetheless wish to know a little bit of what they’re getting. It’s a stability, a pressure, of what’s acquainted and what’s new,” says Brian Neumann, affiliate director on the Kraft Heinz Co. “A house run is whenever you present a new tackle one thing comparatively identified.”


Kraft Heinz has used this technique for years. Mayochup, a mix of ketchup and mayo in a single bottle, made waves on social media when it hit the market in 2018 as a everlasting product. Once more, it was knowledgeable by a habits Heinz had seen—folks combine mayo and ketchup to dip fries into or slather on burgers. When it debuted, Mayochup offered double what the corporate projected. As we speak it’s accessible in grocery stores nationwide.

In 2020, the corporate launched restricted choices of a candy-flavored Kraft dinner round Valentine’s Day, and a pumpkin spice Kraft dinner in fall. Sound gross? On this case, that’s on objective to generate free advertising and marketing. “There are specific takes you’ll have that shall be crowd-pleasers, however what drives probably the most dialog is probably the most polarizing,” Neumann says.

[Photo: Courtesy Heinz]

The necessity for outdated indulgence

In the end, these flavors are a chance for one thing we’ve wanted throughout worrying lockdown: indulgence. Throughout 2020, Kraft Heinz noticed that and not using a commute folks had been taking day out of their day to eat breakfast once more. This was a great second for the corporate’s new comfort-based frozen breakfast referred to as Crave. However to advertise indulgence throughout COVID-19, Kraft Heinz modified the method.

As a substitute of labeling its product for breakfast, it referred to as it “all-day breakfast,” giving customers permission to do the eating equal of carrying their gown all afternoon.

Indulgence can also be key at Mars Ice Cream—makers of Snickers Ice Cream bars. Ice cream gross sales had been up 26% through the second quarter of the pandemic, in accordance with Unilever. As advertising and marketing director Jayesh Shah explains, the highest 10 ice cream flavors have been steady for many years—easy mainstays like vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. However novel flavors drive buzz.

In 2020, Mars Ice Cream remixed the perennial high 10 vendor cookies and cream as “Twix Cookies and Cream” (which gained greatest new product in Comfort Retailer Information), and it drove 50% of brand name greenback development that yr. In 2021, the corporate is following up with a good grander new-nostalgia launch, Snickers Peanut Butter Brownie Ice Cream Bars. They’re like a triple-decker childhood reminiscence (ice cream) sandwich; thus far, they’ve grown the Snickers Ice Cream model by 11%.

“Have a look at how persons are behaving proper now: Shoppers are rife with uncertainty,” Shah says. “That’s the place we’ve discovered we are able to amp up ice cream flavors underneath manufacturers they acknowledge.”

[Photo: Courtesy Bud Light]

The identical sentiment seems within the alcohol business. “I undoubtedly assume we’re seeing this [new nostalgia], and it’s been one thing accelerated by the pandemic,” says Jake Kirsch, VP of innovation at Anheuser-Busch. “It’s not simply concerning the loopy flavors, although that’s a component of it. It’s this entire novel [mix] that borrows from nostalgia, for a straightforward approach to indulge a little bit and deal with myself [amid] a lot craziness.”

Anheuser-Busch believes the pattern will develop over the summer season. “If we’ve got a speculation, it’s that summer season will be an accelerant on this entire alternative,” Kirsch says. “There’s a requirement that’s pent up. Folks will get collectively and desire a launch.”

Alcohol gross sales ballooned by 75% within the early days of the pandemic (with potential long-term consequences on folks’s well being). Throughout this time, although, folks weren’t simply boozing their stress away. Many had been chasing the acquainted. Kirsch factors to the $94 million class of frozen cocktails, a as soon as sleepy a part of the alcohol enterprise that exploded 128% between 2019 and 2020, in accordance with Sensor Session Remesh Analysis, as adults chased frozen treats like boozy popsicles impressed by their youth.

[Photo: Courtesy Bud Light]

In flip, Anheuser-Busch is launching two new merchandise particularly to fulfill our childhood cravings. The primary is the Bud Gentle Seltzer Retro Summer time Selection Pack. This can be a hard-seltzer pack, however as an alternative of watered down, hipster flavors of LaCroix like Pamplemousse, they’ll be accessible in Blue Raspberry and Cherry Limeade—flavors that style like sweet from the Nineteen Eighties and ’90s. The identical flavors shall be launched as Bud Gentle Seltzer Frozen Popsicles, which push the nostalgia a step additional in tie-dye packaging.

At the same time as extra of us are in a position to get collectively and the pandemic wanes, Anheuser-Busch suspects new nostalgia is right here to remain. As a result of there’s one other looming actuality for America’s quickly growing older youth that can require all of us to seize the closest supply of consolation. “You even have the primary millennials turning 40,” Kirsch says. “What higher time than whenever you hit midlife to look again and say, ‘I’m not outdated! Let me decide up some Naturday Ice Pops or a Bud Gentle [popsicle]!’”