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The man who didn't invent Flamin' Hot Cheetos (msn.com)
336 points by krustyburger on May 16, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 145 comments

It's an incredibly bold lie to just take a famous product, claim you invented it, and then go public with speeches and books about your success as an inventor. In a way, it's congruent to his philosophy as a motivational speaker - "take ownership". He did just that and it worked out great.

The whole thing actually reminds me of the time I invented the iPod. See, I'd always liked listening to music while I ran, but my darn "walkman" kept skipping. So I called up the CEO of the company I was a contract security worker at, and I said "Mr. Jobs, Mr. Jobs, have I got an idea for you!"

It's not that bold a lie. He started at the bottom of a corporate ladder and climbed close enough to the top to be on first name terms with one of the CEOs. The details of how he actually got there and the moderately popular spicy products he actually championed are obviously less exciting than invented version where he's still a janitor when he meets the CEO and he conjures spicy flavours from scratch... but the blagging skills he uses to deliver that story are broadly the same ones that helped him navigate actual middle management meetings at a company he actually did work for. And of course he knows both that the actual details if his ladder-climbing are boring and that Frito-Lays themselves wouldn't mind the interesting... variation. As if you actually designed the charger for the second generation iPod, but...

Much like the Catch Me If You Can scammer who came up a few weeks ago, who turns out to have just been a forger of small checks who clung to people in a really creepy way, but parlayed the same basic lying techniques into being a Hollywood antihero whose criminal genius had the FBI hanging off his every word when they eventually caught up with him

It's certainly an impressive story to start work in an entry level position and end your career as an executive. That's something to be proud of. However, I'd bet that a substantial portion of executives have similar stories. Starting at an entry level is pretty common.

As for the rest, it does all seem to be complete lies. He didn't invent the flavor, he didn't come up with the idea based on his Hispanic heritage, he didn't pitch the CEO as a janitor.

If someone is trying to sell you their strategy for amazing success it matters whether they are actually an amazing success or not. It also matters whether they succeeded by using their own strategy or not. His "take ownership" philosophy might be what drove his success at Fritos, but I'd bet it was more of the typical hard work, creativity, luck, and lying.

> It's certainly an impressive story to start work in an entry level position and end your career as an executive. That's something to be proud of.

His history of lying and taking credit for other peoples' work certainly does cast doubt on the merits of his rise up the corporate ladder. Anyone who has spent time in the corporate world has met people in high-ranking positions who they felt didn't really deserve to be there. I know nothing about this guy's time at Frito-Lay, so of course I can't really say anything about whether his success there was merited. But I'm definitely not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, either.

Starting entry level and climbing to the top is certainly common. But "the bottom" is usually quite a few steps above janitor. It's usually starting out as a page or intern or a secretary. I have heard very few "janitor to executive stories".

And you still haven't - because he was a machinist at the start, not a janitor.

The recent planet money report says he was a janitor and a machinist.

It was pretty common till the 80’s. Then it became all elite school bro’s club

If by "bagging skills" you mean relentless bald-faced lying and willingness to take credit for other people's work then that's true. It's easy to imagine that someone so willing to capitalize on a forged biography is likely morally bankrupt to his core and a grade A narcissist.

> It's an incredibly bold lie to just take a famous product, claim you invented it, and then go public with speeches and books about your success as an inventor.

Don't you think such lies are commonplace these days, unfortunately? This one seems run of the mill to me.

Because it's not an inflammatory topic, it might be a useful case to examine and learn how lies like that function.

What could be more inflammatory than lying about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?

I am not sure the lie started out that way. He did pitch something and the Flamin’ Hot Doritos came out in his market subsequent to that pitch, so the charitable explanation is that he genuinely thought his pitch influenced the final product.

> I am not sure the lie started out that way. He did pitch something and the Flamin’ Hot Doritos came out in his market subsequent to that pitch, so the charitable explanation is that he genuinely thought his pitch influenced the final product.

Reread the article. It concludes he pitched the concept of a marketing line called “Sabrositas” in 1994. Sabrositas included pre-existing products, including Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, which had been on shelves as early as 1989. It also included the pre-existing cheeto flavouring on top of popcorn, which was his only new product in the line. And he was already an exec, having been promoted from a Machinist (not janitor) apparently on the basis of initiative shown in waste-reduction ideas and not cheetos-flavour invention, when he pitched Sabrositas.

Alone, it requires a lot of charity to square this with his version of events. Did he, in picking products for his marketing pitch, somehow imagine the cheetos one didn’t exist before he picked it? Did he forget that he was an exec when he pitched the marketing line, too?

But on top of that you have all the elaborate details of his claim of having developed the flavour profile (in talks, he literally claims to have sat around fucking around with spices trying to get the flavour right) and dunked unflavoured cheetos into it to present to the CEO & execs, when again the article concludes that the seasoning is sourced from a supplier called McCormick since 1989, years before his pitch. His claim of convincing all his family to buy out the test market for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, in California where the Flamin Hot Cheetos test market wasn’t, years after it had already entered general sales. And the secretary remembering that he first spoke to the CEO in 1993-1994, only after he was already an exec, despite his elaborate story of pitching to the CEO (who wasn’t the CEO at the time he was a janitor) as a janitor, which he hadn’t been for over a decade when the CEO joined and he made his pitch.

It requires something well beyond charity to believe he genuinely believes his story when so much of it is based on elaborate details that are well out of line with the bare facts.

> a supplier called McCormick

Funny to hear it described like this. The McCormick in question is almost certainly this one:


Yeah tbh I immediately recognized the name, but I don’t know how well known it is to non-North Americans, who tend to make up the weekend crowd.

If you’re aware of what they do, though, it really further undermines the idea that he’s just misrembering: McCormick does a ton of R&D on seasonings to match the evolution of market tastes, and it makes complete sense that Frito Lay when developing new products to trial does so by buying seasonings that match the market profile they want out of their catalog, and doesn’t have janitors sitting at home mixing Cheeto dust and cayan and other spices for weeks to singlehandedly invent new flavourings to pitch to CEOs, when bulk spice ingredient purchasing and mixing isn’t even the business Frito Lay is actually in.

Not that it probably makes a difference in this case. But even a flavor developed in-house would probably go to someone like McCormick to develop the actual seasoning that can be mass produced and has all the necessary properties like shelf life, cost, etc.

Off topic, but Mccormick cajun Seasoning is my favorite spice mix. I use it in almost everything, highly reccomended.

McCormick is a global corporation. While it’s brands in the Americas are certainly the most successful and profitable, it operates brands throughout Europe and Asia as well.

> It's an incredibly bold lie

It may be incredibly bold to you because you likely have a reputation to lose. This guy had nothing to lose. If you have muscles you can always get another unskilled job.

In any case, considering how good he is at bullshitting, they should maybe promote him as VP of marketing.

And then you had your partner cook up a bunch of iPod prototypes at home before the pitch meeting?

The were just Diamond Rios his wife spray painted white though.

Man I had that, 32mb iirc, could get a whole album whilst delivering papers for some slave driving cunt

Marketing guy is good at marketing. World shocked.

That's small beans.

I know of a politician (a POLITICIAN!) who invented the internet. So there.


The politician you have in mind, Al Gore, claimed credit for driving funding to develop, among other things, the internet. Which, in fact, he did. He also earned a Nobel Prize for his role in alerting a very large number of people to the now rapidly unfolding disaster of global climate disruption. Had more listened, then, things might be better now.


There are some good ones there. Actual quotes.

Let's see. 1 isn't great but lacks context. 2 is a joke. 3 is impossible to evaluate without context. 4 is whatever. 5 is not an actual quote.

Some past related threads:

How a janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos (2017) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25510351 - Dec 2020 (261 comments)

A janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (2017) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20227175 - June 2019 (356 comments)

The Janitor Who Hacked Cheetos - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3764044 - March 2012 (9 comments)

eurleif, on the 2012 article:

> Maybe I'm just cynical, but this story seems too perfect to me. It smells a lot like PR fiction. Would they really need a janitor to come up with the idea of spicy Cheetos? Seems like something they would've already been experimenting with as part of normal R&D.

Could we add a comment to those old threads noting the full story and linking to this new thread?

Seems like this guy exaggerated his story, got speaking engagements, a book deal, and a movie deal out of it. Now, Frito Lay doesn't want to completely shut him down because they're getting free marketing out of it. Yes they published the statement saying it wasn't all him, but some of their execs are also trying to say he had a big part in something.

Why can't people just be honest? He has an inspiring story without all the embellishments, I wish he would have just stuck to it.

I was recently browsing LinkedIn and some random person had posted that they had a 'wikipedia' entry about them and were super excited to find out and that they felt elated to be recognized in that manner.

Everyone on that thread was congratulating him (which I guess is what people do when someone posts positive news) but the wikipedia entry was pretty much a copy paste job about someone that had a normal career (school, some job, now a PM at some co., early 30s) with normal accomplishments and it just smelled of 'self-promotion'. The wiki entry was also created two weeks prior by someone who primarily had only contributed this one major edit/post.

Obviously it's not something I felt was my position to point out by commenting on this congratulatory thread of someone I didn't even know but it just reeked of BS.

The irony is that people will see that LinkedIn/wiki post and ascribe some attributes to this person which will probably help him in his career and anyone who says otherwise will be labelled a 'hater' or some other term.

I guess my point is that embellishments and exaggerations work for the same reason that many scams work - a lot of people are gullible/can be fooled by them and it results in a net positive outcome for the perpetrators.

LinkedIn feels like the most performative of all social networks.

I knew a guy who shared the name of a Yahoo founder, who set up some kind of automatic forwarding of everything he posted on Facebook to LinkedIn. So his LinkedIn account was full of posts of him getting wasted on the weekend. A bold strategy no doubt, not sure if it paid off for him.

Motivational speakers need some sort of a hook to get people listen to them. "The Janitor who invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos" is a pretty good hook, something that people will click on. "The Plant Worker who Climbed the Corporate Ladder at Frito" would probably get far fewer clicks.

Without that embellishment, he may not have had any success as a motivational speaker.

I lack the desire to dig into it further, but it's plausible that his original story is the one he started off telling, and when somebody said "wait, you invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos as a Janitor and the CEO Loved it! Let us pay you money to tell that story at our corporate event" he just went with it. A lot of people would.

And let's consider this: He was a marketing exec. Now he's marketing himself.

>He was a marketing exec

This is the rug that ties the room together :)

because he's smart enough with regards to marketing to know that your story itself has to be marketable

Man I love when stories like this go down. Not because I have any interest either way, but because it will silently be deleted from thousands of management "how to ideation" slide decks, to be replaced by something equally as bite-sized.

If only the "McDonald's Milkshake Job to Be Done" would be next.


This is why I am distrustful of motivational speakers. Their incentives aren't really aligned with mine. I want to hear a story of how someone became successful that I can replicate in my own life. They want to book speaking engagements and sell books.

There is a huge incentive for motivational speakers to embellish, emphasize the interesting parts, and downplay the boring parts and the parts that we don't want to hear (i.e. that being successful often requires a good amount of raw talent and luck).

My rule is, if someone is profiting off of my believing what they say, then assume they aren't above lying to me about it.

I try not to be a curmudgeon about it and give people the benefit of the doubt, but my life experience has largely taught me that people are willing to lie much more often than not when there's money on the line.

NPR Planet Money just did a podcast about this and talked to Frito Lay they didnt deny it like this article as much but said they didnt take notes or have any records of it because they just didnt keep records of this kind of stuff [1]

[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/05/12/996228628/hot-cheetos

Also just finished that episode. I noticed that neither Montanez, nor the reporter ever say "flamin' hot cheetos". They just say "hot cheetos". And NPR also did verify that there was a market run around that time, in his region of a spicy cheetos product around that time.

So it sounds very plausible that he did in fact create a "hot cheeto" that may have gone on to inspire the broadly marketed flamin' hot cheetos we see today.

As a side note the Plano headquarters for Frito Lay is beautiful. People from neighboring employers are commonly seen taking walks on their nature paths. The best part are the wild orchards of persimmon trees giving off tons of fruit like unwanted tree trash that ultimately coats the ground orange.

The reason he got away with it is because it's a beautiful story. No one wants to come off as though they are going against the Hispanic community. Certainly not a junk food conglomerate who aims their products towards that demographic.

“We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not credit the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot products to him.”

> The new product was designed to to compete with spicy snacks sold in the inner-city mini-marts of the Midwest. A junior employee with a freshly minted MBA named Lynne Greenfeld got the assignment to develop the brand — she came up with the Flamin’ Hot name and shepherded the line into existence.

This names the person who branded the line but with an internal investigation I would expect the person and the story of how the flavour itself was conceived to be reported.

Seems like there's more to the story than is being told by both sides. The company story would be more believable with more details. There's no reason not to believe that official company records didn't credit a janitor who conceived and prototyped a flavour by someone in a position who was happy to take credit. Could be either way or a bit of both not wanting to give or share credit for whatever reasons.

That is also in the story:

> Frito-Lay’s statement contradicted its former CEO. “According to our records, McCormick, Frito-Lay’s longtime seasoning supplier, developed the Flamin’ Hot seasoning and sent initial samples to Frito-Lay on Dec. 15, 1989,” the statement said. “This is essentially the same seasoning Frito-Lay uses today.”

He also claims he gave the pitch to a guy that didn't even work for the company when the products were being developed.

He may not even realize he's lying. Things get foggy after 20 years. But that doesn't change the truth. And the truth appears to be that he helped develop a similar product aimed at the Hispanic market that isn't in production today. The dates, locations, and people he claims were involved don't line up at all with the evidence that's out there for him to have been the one that pitched the flaming hot idea.

Didn't credit a janitor who lived miles away in California, and gave it instead to an MBA and her entire team in the Midwest?

I suspect that Flamin Hot Cheetos were released early on, and after Montanez' pitch for Sabrositas, they involved him with the design of the existing product even more. But taking claim for inventing Flamin Hot Cheetos is quite simply fraud, especially in the face of overwhelming evidence against those claims.

That would make sense except his timeline doesn't even line up. How could he have created and pitched Flamin' Hot _well after_ it already existed. He specifically and repeatedly names the CEO who empowered him as well, and who the CEO was changed in the critical time period, so the years getting fuzzy doesn't help either.

Gosh I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s like learning a sports hero doped, you don’t want to believe it, must be something else, but in your gut there’s that feeling. The man really accomplished a lot, I wound hate to see his true achievements buried

Like discovering Bill Cosby was a POS. :'(

Yes, that is a very sad one for me. I grew up listening to his comedy on LP, and now I have to never listen to it again because of what a terrible person he is/was. I really hate that.

And c'mon. Lance Armstrong. What a let down. I do respect him for owning up to it at least at some point. That had to take... guts.

I'm still a fan of Lance. I still enjoy watching some of his classic races up Alpe d'Huez, and I still have a lot of respect for his competitiveness as a rider. Even though I know an inseparable part of those legendary performances is the EPO.

I also recognize that he's not a good person. I listen to his podcast from time to time and he comes across as a total narcissist. It literally makes me cringe sometimes. He's not someone that I would wish to emulate or I would want my kids to emulate.

That actually kind of makes me like him more, though. He's not just some legend. He's a real, flawed human being who also happens to have the most interesting career in all of cycling (in my opinion).

I am, and always will be, a tremendous fan of Lance. He got my fat butt off the couch and onto a bicycle, and was an incredible inspiration to me. I am very sad that he doped, but I forgive him, While it hurts, I’m glad that he came clean. Perhaps because I understand that everyone was doping then (Pantani, Ulrich, Virenque, etc) and it was an impossible situation for many of those guys.

You can still listen to Cosby. He is still funny. Just don't dope your dates with quaaludes.

But it isn't the same. Part of his act was that he presented himself as an upstanding person, and his act doesn't work if you know he was secretly terrible.

You know what's weird? On one hand I agree with you about not being able to listen to Bill Cosby anymore. But on other, literally every comedian is playing a character. I'm not even talking about the obvious ones like Larry the Cable Guy. Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., John Mulaney.

Except maybe the late Arty Lang. He was pretty up front about being a piece of shit.

Reminds me of an old joke. "What's the easiest way to tell a comedian has made up a story? They start with, 'now this one really happened to me'."

I get no respect…

His public persona had that (and he made a lot of people with soft bigotry mad with it), but in his act, he is just a guy. Giving his children chocolate cake for breakfast and helping his wife breathe during childbirth.

It doesn't take guts to own up when you've already been caught and it doesn't make up for the peoole that were harmed by trying to keep the secret.

Fair enough.

All kinds of people claim they "thought of something first" as if ideas without execution means something like planting a flag in a distant land. A delusional, extreme form of this then claims they invented a product, service, brand, or technology.

For example, my mom's long-time accounting coworker claimed repeatedly that someone[0] "stole" her business plan in a business class and then went on to launch Papa Murphy's take-and-bake pizza franchise.

0. Terry Collins? About the right age and location, but did they attend business classes at the same time?

He was also featured on a recent episode of Planet Money [0].

[0] https://www.npr.org/2021/05/12/996228628/hot-cheetos

Yes, was just listening to that just this past week.

"A junior employee with a freshly minted MBA named Lynne Greenfeld got the assignment to develop the brand — she came up with the Flamin’ Hot name and shepherded the line into existence."

Doesn't have the same Hollywood ring ...

I’ve heard the original story and this clarification sounds like the material for a much better movie

Reminds me of this movie where a girl goes to her high school reunion and claims she invented Post-It Notes. I wish I could remember the name of it.

Ha ha, thanks!

I did some work in 2000's (aughts) using a Zigby and a spare water meter to keep track of leaks and water usage on a computer for home use. I even made a youtube video (since deleted by youtube). I was a Best Buy recently and saw essentially the same produce that was "invented" by a guy in California and developed by his son into a multi-million dollar company. Trying to piece together what happened 13 years ago is tough, I can only wonder at how hard it is after 30 years. There is a lot of corporate mytheogy that is allowed. When I worked for a certain supercomputer company, they put out the myth that the founder spent his spare time digging a tunnel from his home to his lakefront beach. Not true, but got the company a lot of free PR.

Wait, Seymour never dug a tunnel under his house? Damn.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the truth of the story is that some poor small business owner in Chicago came up with a spicy-cheesy-crunchy treat (in their kitchen?) and was poised to be a rags-to-riches story, but then Frito Lay carefully copied the spices and came up with a marketing campaign that left them behind...

I mean, they basically say that in the article. They got the idea by seeing other spicy snacks from smaller companies clearing out the shelves and started buying them up to figure them out.

Unfortunately, the truth probably won't spread quickly enough to put out the falsehood. The flamin' hot cheetos janitor story will probably live on, even if it's not true. It's part of cultural legend now.

Something that I learned working on marketing related positions is that you can go a long way with lies like that (taking credit for something you didn't do) specially when you are higher up in the chain. I'd guess that most VP/C levels curriculum might be of things they have little to no participation over. Nobody who know what really happened would botter burning their bridges just to set the record straight, so these guys sail away with these types of stories. I'd say is even worse in ad agencies...

Carey currently sits on the board of... a blank-check vehicle, Omnichannel Acquisition Corp.

I thought "SPAC" was a terrible idiom. "Blank-check vehicle" is certainly worse.

I had never heard that term before- so I had to look it up.

“ A blank check company is a development stage company that has no specific business plan or purpose or has indicated its business plan is to engage in a merger or acquisition with an unidentified company or companies, other entity, or person. These companies typically involve speculative investments and often fall within the SEC’s definition of "penny stocks" or are considered "microcap stocks."

In addition, a blank check company registering for a securities offering may be subject to additional requirements for the protection of investors, including depositing most of the raised funds in an escrow account until an acquisition is agreed to and requiring shareholder approval of any identified acquisition.

A type of blank check company is a “special purpose acquisition company,” or SPAC for short. A SPAC is created specifically to pool funds in order to finance a merger or acquisition opportunity within a set timeframe. The opportunity usually has yet to be identified.”


Reiterates my opinion that professional motivational speakers are largely frauds.

Unfortunately it's not even just motivational speakers. I've found that most business books about successful companies tend to lionize leaders and often straight out lie about events to make them fit the narrative better. A great example is [1]. The truth is that luck and "boring" work/processes are most often what result in success.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/books/la-xpm-2013-nov-04-la-et-jc-ma...

We’ve lost the parable as a form of discussion/presentation- now it has to be told “as if a true story” - but the truth of a fable or parable isn’t in the historical accuracy.

That's somewhat true, but in this case the story wasn't told as a parable and the primary actors are real and alive and well. Someone is taking credit for other people's work.

Checks out. They aren't in the business of truth telling. They are in the business of booking speaking engagements. I guess just like with news opinion and analysis pieces they use "click-bait" story summaries and pandering content to attract an audience..

He lied and continues to lie to keep making money as a motivational speaker.

Yes. It is one of the most American success stories I've seen in a long time..

Surely a great opportunity for him to change tacks: now he should claim how he made the story up and how much it helped boost his image - the “exaggeration” is a great story in itself.

Climbing the rungs of the charlatan career ladder, like Tim Ferriss.

This guy spoke at my software company a few months ago and everybody was so inspired. Jeesh.

People want to believe in something. It doesn't matter how big or small.

And if Frito-Lay is promoting this story, even though it's not true, because it sounds "good" how is it any different/less offensive from "Aunt Jemima" or "Uncle Ben"? (i.e., fictional characters invented to create a narrative.) It seems patronizing and offensive.

imagine if all journalism was this thorough and investigative.

If you read the entire article - it’s not as if this man’s entire life story is pure bullshit. He really did start as a low-level worker at one of their plants, he really did come up with some concepts for Hispanic-style flavor variations that Frito Lay adopted and ultimately sold, and he really did work his way up to becoming “Vice President of Multicultural Sales” for Frito-lay.

It sounds like he’s simplified part of the story, maybe exaggerated a little, and maybe changed some of the specific product names to ones that are more generally recognizable. But the core of the story is true.

This is no different than how any other energetic, extroverted, outgoing, optimistic sales / marketing executive I’ve worked with would behave (let alone - a founder trying to pitch a VC). They’re not necessarily being dishonest - not everyone has an engineer or a scientist’s analytical memory and linear, organized view of cause and effect. And it’s not as if we’re talking about presenting evidence from a clinical study for a cancer drug here - the man is just telling a story, everyone knows that.

Not sure this merits the tone of the headline or the start of the article, which certainly will give 90% of the people who just skim it the impression he made the whole thing up.

How can the core of the story of the guy who created Flamin' Hot Cheetos be true if he had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos?

The real shocking part of the article is to find out that we (black kids growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the 80s) invented Flamin' Hot Cheetos because of our addiction to putting hot sauce on our chips. I honestly thought everybody did that, and didn't understand the early rise of the Flamin' Hots craze - I assumed there were always products like that available, because there were always local products like that available in Chicago.

> This is no different than how any other energetic, extroverted, outgoing, optimistic sales / marketing executive I’ve worked with would behave (let alone - a founder trying to pitch a VC). They’re not necessarily being dishonest - not everyone has an engineer or a scientist’s analytical memory and linear, organized view of cause and effect. And it’s not as if we’re talking about presenting evidence from a clinical study for a cancer drug here - the man is just telling a story, everyone knows that.

You could just shorten this to "who cares, it's just another bullshit artist."

> Around that time, Montañez began working on a line of products pitched specifically at the Latino market in the Los Angeles area: Sabrositas. Images that Montañez has posted to his Instagram account show that the Sabrositas line included Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, two types of Fritos — Flamin’ Hot and Lime and Chile Corn Chips — and a Doritos variety billed as buñuelito-style tortilla chips.

seems likely he was involved in different product lines with very similar names

Meaning that he saw a product that was being marketed to black people and thought that with a few changes, variants could be successfully marketed to Hispanics.

Those lines he came up with do not exist anymore, however, because I'm pretty sure Hispanic stores just import lime-chile brands from Mexico. They weren't an original idea, they're common.

It isn't clear what he came up with. But they sell Flamin' Hot Popcorn and Fritos still. And Chile Lime Fritos in Mexico.

There's dorito products out there that are extremely similar to Takis. I don't know the timeline though.

Not trying to downplay the main point of your comment, but

> our addiction to putting hot sauce on our chips

sounds absolutely delicious, is it as simple as it sounds?

As long as you have a carry bag


try also, popcorn

I don’t remember Flaming Hot Cheetos before the 2000s. As a snack enthusiast, I’d remember if it were widespread back then.

So it’s not out of the question that the guy sincerely believed his push for a latino-marketed chips in the early 90s was widely adopted and rebranded.

He’s also a bit of a story teller, so I feel like this is more a case of “Big Fish” rather than a “Talented Mr Ripley”.

The core of his story is that he invented Flamin Hots. That isn’t true. The level of spin you’re putting on blatant falsehoods here is amazing. According to Frito Lay, he wasn’t even near the project. That’s not non-linear recollection, that’s just self serving mistruths.

Planet Money did an episode[0] on this tale recently and reached out to Frito-Lay. Their general response was that their record keeping back was not great and they don't have record of how exactly hot cheetos came to be. This seems to be directly at odds with this piece so I don't know that the truth is known.

[0] https://www.npr.org/2021/05/12/996228628/hot-cheetos


> “None of our records show that Richard was involved in any capacity in the Flamin’ Hot test market,” Frito-Lay wrote in a statement to The Times, in response to questions about an internal investigation whose existence has not been previously disclosed. “We have interviewed multiple personnel who were involved in the test market, and all of them indicate that Richard was not involved in any capacity in the test market.

> One photograph, posted to Instagram in October 2019 but now deleted, shows four pieces of lined notebook paper, labeled “mild,” “reg,” “hot” and “extra hot,” with Cheetos piled on top of each. At the bottom of one, Montañez signed his name and wrote the date “1988.”

> In another post, now deleted, he wrote that he worked on the Doritos Salsa Rio flavor in 1998 — a product that first hit test markets in 1987, according to Advertising Age articles from that year.

>But Enrico did not work at Frito-Lay when Flamin’ Hot products were developed. His move to Frito-Lay was announced in December 1990, and he took over control at the beginning of 1991 — nearly six months after Flamin’ Hots were already out in the test market.

He is a fraud. End of.

They also said in that episode, although the CEO at the time has since passed away, another former CEO, Al Carey, has publicly credited him with inventing the flavor.

EDIT: Apparently that is also disputed, however.

TFA goes into this in detail. They asked Carey, he said Montañez came up with the flavour. Then they confronted Carey with the fact that the product pre-exists Montañez‘s involvement by years, and was developed by other people entirely. Carey replied that Montañez was essential in “reformulating” the flavour to make it the success it is today.

Then they asked the company about that, and Frito Lay responded that they’ve been buying the same seasoning from McCormick since the initial 1989 test market trials in the northeast that predate Montañez’s 1993-1994 Sabrositas pitch. Not only has it not been reformulated, Montañez entire story (not directly related in this article) of single handedly developing the flavouring to dunk unflavoured cheetos he took home with him for his pitch must be bullshit, since it’s entirely developed by and sourced from a third-party company.

His response:

> Carey said he was unsure how to account for that contradiction. “I’m sure if you went back into the Frito-Lay history, OK, there’s probably something in 1990 that was a test market on a spicy product,” he said. “I’ll be surprised if it was this same ingredient, but it could have been, I guess.”

“Ok sure, the entire product may already have been in test somewhere else and I’d be very surprised to learn it had all the same ingredients”, which it did. Incredible stuff. Probably just a coincidence he also gets co-speaking fees with Montañez in some appearances.

He claims that he invented the flaming hot line, which he didn't. There probably are sales people and founders who engage in a similar level "exaggeration". And there's a pretty good name for them: liars.

In my experience, bullshit doesn’t exist in isolation. If his boldest claim is bs, then likely many other things about his story are. I’d even go as far as to question whether his career advancement was enabled by this behavior.

A bit of rant, but people like this are toxic and need to be weeded out of organizations. I’ve seen too much of folks getting away with such behavior in my career.

>I’d even go as far as to question whether his career advancement was enabled by this behavior.

If it was then he's perfect for corporate America and fully deserves his position.

I read the entire article. Of course it doesn't say his "entire life story is pure bullshit". That's a straw man. But it includes a ton of evidence that his claim to have invented Flaming Hot Cheetos is bullshit, as well as lots of examples where he's changed his story many times over the years.

That's nothing!

I too did not invent Flamin' Hot Cheetos. But I also did not invent Sabrositas! In fact, I can supply you with a very long list of unhealthy, unhygienic, and even actively toxic junk foods I did not invent. We need not delve into the worlds of trans fatty acids, glucose-to-fructose conversion enzymes, or other current public-health disasters which I have had no hand in -- many of which I don't even know about.

> Schools have banned the snack altogether over concerns about its popularity with children.

This is the most disturbing thing reported in the article. Who cares who invented a one more type of over-processed shit? What we should care about is that it's marketed to kids.

Or to anyone. The message plastered everywhere should be: don't eat that shit. It's bad for you.

Oh and the article above is just so much white-washed corporate propaganda and advertisement. An entire article about who invented a product and not one warning about the product's unhealthiness.

The implication isn't that it was banned because of health concerns, but because of its distracting popularity. (Like Pokemon cards or yo-yos.) The article reiterates this further down, though also links to a 2012 article where a few elementary schools in the LA area banned them due to high fat/sodium/calories, like other candy or junk food. https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/10/flamin-hot-ch... You'll also note in that article that Frito-Lay doesn't market to kids 12 and under or sell directly to schools. (I doubt that's changed in 9 years.) The colloquial name for junk food is junk food, I think people are well enough aware that it's bad for you. So what concerns do you have left?

That it's junk food that's aimed straight at children. Why does it make it any better if it's not marketed to kids under 12? Is it more healthy to eat shit when you're over 12?

Can I ask back? My concern is that junk food is junk food. What is your concern with me pointing it out? Am I really causing such irreparable damage by pointing out that it's shit and people shouldn't eat it? And is the damage I cause by pointing out it's shit more than the damage that's caused for example by advertising this shit to kids over 12?

What is your concern, exactly, with my comment, can you explain?

What makes you say that it's aimed straight at children?

> What is your concern ...?

Free time to waste and a reaction to what I perceived as a weird moralizing tangent to a throwaway line only aimed at building social proof of importance for the article's main content about correcting the details of a rags-to-riches tale. (You're probably right it should just be written off as a submarine, though I'm happy for the correction since even the corrected tale provides an example in favor of one of Deming's principles, and it's better for examples to be as factual as possible.) I also was curious that if I mentioned that the marketing to kids angle isn't there and that people are already well aware of what junk food is, would you still be so disturbed?

And I do think you're erroneous in jumping from something being popular with kids to something being marketed to (or even "aimed straight at") kids, though in the process of typing up an even longer comment I realized this isn't entirely fair because one generally expects companies to market to their big consumers. Are kids big consumers? Probably or else the snack wouldn't be popular enough to cause a ruckus, but after a minute's search I didn't find any demographic data addressing more than just adults so beyond the company statement I'm only left with intuition. (FWIW after looking at demographic data I saw a surprising blurb that "America’s Favorite Snack for the Third Year in a Row Is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos". My intuition suggests this is best explained by being most popular with adults, for themselves, rather than kids or teens.) But maybe you'll find a commercial or something to show me that I'm wrong and it definitely is aimed at them, particularly any time recently.

> Why does it make it any better if it's not marketed to kids under 12?

I'm not sure you're even asking this seriously. For an imperfect analogy I would suggest without getting into much reasoning that it's better that society restricts cigarette companies from marketing to kids but lets them continue marketing to adults. If we got into it I think the general principle I'd be going for first would revolve around improved cognition as you age into adulthood, but I don't think it's much better or worse whether this particular junk snack isn't marketed to kids, in part from my own biases that include a fondness for 90s commercials and cartoons.

> Is it more healthy to eat shit when you're over 12?

Generally yes, though the correlation depends on the specific type of shit and often more on weight more so than age... Still, as you age beyond childhood, you tend to get heavier, and your body can tolerate more abuse from lots of kinds of things.

> Am I really causing such irreparable damage by pointing out that it's shit and people shouldn't eat it?

I don't think you're causing damage, I just think it was a weird comment with misplaced moralizing about the kids, and your followup makes me all the more curious whether it's ultimately just a complaint against junk food existing in general. Or is there something about this particular food that you think is egregiously unhealthy? So it's clear, I didn't like this particular flavor when I tried it perhaps 12 years ago, though I do enjoy regular cheetos from time to time (especially when I worked in an office and they were free); I would never mistake them for healthy food, but 1) I think they taste good and 2) I don't think they're particularly unhealthy.

Moralizing? Where in my comment above did I say anything about morality? I said that Flamin' Hot Cheetos is shit and that it shouldn't be marketed to kids. Btw, I also added "or to anyone", but of course the conversation immediately homed in on the parts where I said it's about kids.

Though my language wasn't technical, I made a qualititative comment about the substance of the product we're disucssing (and later about its specific list of ingredients on which I have a lot more to say; but I'm waiting for the other poster's reply to my comment for that), not about the moral character of the people who consume it. For example, I didn't say "if you eat this stuff you're a bad person". I said "don't eat this shit. It's bad for you".

"It's bad for you". Not "you're bad". You wrote six paragraphs in response to something I never said. And with a condescending attitude ("I'm not sure you're even asking this seriously").

What can I say? Life on the internet would be so much better if we didn't all constantly make assumptions about each other's intent and instead asked the question "what do you mean?" before jumping straight in to do battle.

For instance, you could have asked this, and I'd 've been happy to answer:

> I don't think you're causing damage, I just think it was a weird comment with misplaced moralizing about the kids, and your followup makes me all the more curious whether it's ultimately just a complaint against junk food existing in general.

Yes, it's a complaint about junk food in general. I care about food (see username) and I'm disturbed to find that most of the food people eat in developed countries is mass produced shit sold to them by a degenerate food industry that destroys the environment and consumers' health; and in the process has taken away the ability of most people to cook a nutritious, healthy and satisfying meal for themselves. I'm even more disturbed that people are so used to eating this shit that they protest when anyone reminds them it's shit or tries to show them how to eat a good, cheap meal instead - like the British moms that fed their kids kebabs over the school gates when school meals switched to something more healthy than mac'n'cheese and fries (it was in the news back then, related to some initiative by Jamie Oliver. You can probably find it on the web, otherwise let me know and I'll find you a link).

And so, on we go. I say "don't eat that shit. It's bad for you". And you say I'm moralising, and another poster complains about "handholding" and "coddling". Because this whole subject of what we eat, which is really a practical matter of measurable quantities and predictable outcomes that should be discussed on technical terms, has become a political issue that is only ever discussed in emotional terms. Even on "Hacker News".

Which is supposed to be all about intellectual curiosity. Where's the intellectual curiosity in ruminating over the same old boring culture war issues? Aren't you curious instead why people eat shit when they know it's shit and even call it junk food themselves, like you say? Because thats what I am curious about.

> Aren't you curious instead why people eat shit when they know it's shit and even call it junk food themselves, like you say? Because thats what I am curious about.

No, because to me it's obvious. They eat it for obvious reasons, four that immediately come to mind include 1) to them it's not shit 2) it tastes good 3) it's part of addictive behavior, which may or may not have a component based in chemical dependence 4) it's fast and accessible (and often inexpensive, though I frequently shake my head when I'm reminded how much markup a gas station store has over a grocery store for the same items yet nonetheless sell a good volume).

I'm even more mystified about your sudden reminder that we're on "Hacker News". How long have you been on HN? (I assume this isn't your first account.) Old HN died a long time ago.

To be honest, your explanations are simple hand-waving to me, which is not what I'm interested in.

How is saying something shouldn't be marketed not a moral stance?

What kind of stance is it then? It doesn't sound like an economic stance, or a legal stance. And it doesn't sound like your motivation is so that you personally won't have to see them.

> How is saying something shouldn't be marketed not a moral stance?

It's a political stance, not a moral one. As I said earlier, I didn't make any moral judgements about the people who eat that snack, or even for the people who sell it, although to be fair I do have a few choice words for the latter. Anyway in my book accusing someone of "moralising" is most of the time something people say to shut down conversation.

I didn't understand what you mean by your last sentence.

It is plastered on the bag under "Nutrition Facts." Whether you choose to eat nothing but flaming hot cheetos and die of painful gastroinstestinal related problems, or live an otherwise healthy life but eat cheetos occasionally is entirely up to you in this country. We don't need more handholding and coddling imo.

Which country is "this"? And do you also mind advertisement that's constantly trying to tell you what to eat? Or is it only the "handhonlding" that tells you how to not eat yourself to an early grave that's bothers you?

> It is plastered on the bag under "Nutrition Facts."

I don't have a bag handy, but I'm looking up nutrition facts online, and I can't see anything about the product being unhealthy ultra-processed shit:


What I can see is a list of ingredients:

> Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil), Flamin' Hot Seasoning (Maltodextrin [Made from Corn], Salt, Sugar, Monosodium Glutamate, Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5], Sunflower Oil, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Onion Powder, Whey, Whey Protein Concentrate, Garlic Powder, Natural Flavor, Buttermilk, Sodium Diacetate, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate), and Salt. CONTAINS MILK INGREDIENTS.

Looks nutritious!

I see a lot of pretty standard ingredients here, what's your problem with them?

Just to skip over the pedantic wrangling over semantics here, can you tell me whether you think that Flamin' Hot Cheetos are a healthy snack? Because I think they're not and that's my main point. You tell me if you disagree with that and then I can tell you why I think that ingredients list is unhealthy.

Nothing. It's refuting the GGP (?) who said they were ultra processed unhealthy junk.

I'm amazed at the length of this article.

Never expected MSN to put this much effort into such a random topic.

The top of the page has the LA Times logo and it says it was provided to MSN by the Times. Direct link to original below.


That also explains why they could just drop the location "Ontario" into TFA without qualifying it by its location in San Bernardino County.

I wondered what Gustavo Arellano's take would be on this:


It's better than most 140 character articles that plague news sites these days

It's seriously great reporting. They dive deep, and keep their tone as impartial as you could hope for. Good job LA Times.

The chip is a lie.

As fake as the american dream!

I like how this guys became successful by literally lying

well, yeah. The cynical part of me has a similar reaction: "This is typical of America", we also see a lot of comments here that justify his actions, so there certainly is a cultural assessment that this type of "showmanship" is kinda worshipped in America. I mean, who can argue otherwise with the success of Trump, Theranos, Fox News, Mark Cuban, Musk etc. Not all showmanship is bad but if lying or talking shit is too successful it offen leads to more sinister things like outright lies (well, these here are lies already, imo), corruption (because the success is not built on effort but on being liked, so you share your successes with your friends) and so on. Also if nothing is built on facts but rather on persona (like fox news) then we get in trouble when no one believes in climate change or doesnt trust vaccines etc. So in my opinion this culture of showmanship or populism or story before facts is not good in the long run. But it's entertaining, now isn't it?


I never would have thought to make chili lime chips. I never would have even tried them until I spent time in the southwest. Now I'm floored they weren't a bigger thing sooner. And tajin. You can get it in most of the country, but it was all over in the produce section down there. Confused the hell out of me until a coworker offered me some cucumber slices with tajin and lime juice. It's incredible. And tajin on green apples. I don't know how it isn't a bigger thing across the country.

And according to this article, it wasn't white people that came up with the flaming hot idea in the first place. It came from black neighborhoods in Chicago.

Was it your race or ethnicity which prevented you from seeing that chili lime chips would be delicious? Or is it just the fact that you, regardless of your demographics, hadn't spent time in a region where the local fare involved chili lime chips?

I didn't say that white people invented Flamin Hot cheetos - I said that it's common for diversity advocates to utilize stereotypes as long as they punch in the "right" direction. But the feeling I got from my diversity lecture at work was that "Management at Frito Lay couldn't think of Flamin hot cheetos because they were too white".

Also, I'm not sure where you're getting that the idea came from black neighborhoods. No one has their demographics called out in the article from what I can tell, and it seems like Fred Lindsay, Sharon Owens, and Lynne Greenfeld helped develop the brand - maybe they're black, I don't know. The only place I can imagine you getting that is by guessing that the clientele in Chicago corner stores and gas stations is mostly black, and that clientele is the same clientele that would buy the pre-existing non-cheetos spicy products. Maybe that's the case, but then that isn't a particularly strong point for diversity advocates, which was the basis of my post, if your company can be completely, say, white, and all you have to do is look at what is selling well in "ethnic" neighborhoods and copy it.

It wasn't my race or ethnicity that kept me from seeing it. It was my upbringing. As soon as I started spending time with people who had different preferences than me, I realized what I was missing out on. I had the same thing with Indian food when I met my husband. My parents didn't like curry and told me I wouldn't either. My husband (boyfriend at the time) talked me into trying it and damn is it tasty.

I got the idea that it came from black neighborhoods from another comment on here saying it came from black neighborhoods. I don't know anything about Chicago, so I assumed they knew what they were talking about when they said those neighborhoods were largely black.

I don't understand what's so bad about realizing that other cultures have different tastes and they may very well know about a delicious combo that you don't see in the mostly white suburbs where I'm from. What's wrong with saying that instead of writing off curry and spicy chips as foreign, maybe we should try them?

I hate this focus on race and ethnicity. Genetically, it's an incredibly hard thing to nail down, if it's even possible. Let's not be like my grandmother saying that n-words and illegals eat gross things and she only wants to try things that her gradually expanding definition of white says is OK. Differences in culture are a good thing. They make life richer and more varied.

Why shouldn't we make it a point to listen to the voices that have been pushed into the background for the last couple centuries. There's obviously a lot to learn and a lot we're missing out on.

Takis are better

so he's a massive attention seeking fraud..

Taking credit that was due elsewhere makes this person absolute scum.

The author of this article is also aggrandizing his story, not just Montañez

What percent of readers will get past the first 60+ paragraphs to learn that Montañez did come up with one Flamin' Hot product, even if it was much later than he claims?

>“After testing recipes and outlining a marketing strategy, Montañez burst forth with a kernel of an idea: Flamin’ Hot Popcorn, which will soon make its debut.” An industry news wire announced that Flamin’ Hot Popcorn did in fact hit shelves in March 1994, as an extension of the Flamin’ Hot line that Greenfeld and her colleagues had rolled out four years earlier.

Hard disagree; he's made claims for years about pitching the original Flamin' Hot Cheetos line. He didn't. I don't care that he extended the line to popcorn. It makes no difference to the consistent lie being told about his story, which is that he pitched Flamin' Hot Cheetos

That's not a "kernel of truth", it's a gross mischaracterization. There is a huge difference between inventing an entire new product category that is massively successful and taking an already successful category and adding a single offshoot to it.

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