Judging Lay's 2015 “Do Us a Flavor” Contest: A Round-Up

The 2015 contestants for Lay's “Do Us a Flavor” promotion have hit the shelves. Every year, Lay's solicits flavor submissions from folks, and this year's four regional-themed flavors are now out. This means you have a couple of months to run out and grab some bags, assault or please your taste buds, and then vote (as a law-abiding American, obviously) for your favorite. The winning submission gets a million dollars — and you get to eat lots of calories and elevate those sodium levels.

[jump] The contest launched in 2013 with Cheesy Garlic Bread as the winner (Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles were the other flavors, of which the latter was most offensive — syrup-and-chicken-flavored chips should never be a thing, people). Last year, Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger beat out Cheddar Bacon Mac 'n' Cheese, Cappuccino (what? I can't even finish this sentence), and Wavy Mango Salsa.

This year's 2015 finalists are Southern Biscuits & Gravy, Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries, Kettle Cooked Greektown Gyro, and New York Reuben. As a junk food aficionado and self-proclaimed snack monster, I naturally had to consume these. So I did, and I polled others. Here's a round-up, in no particular order:

  • Southern Biscuits & Gravy. This flavor isn't offensive at all. It's light and faintly aromatic, with a strong black pepper aftertaste. An initial blind taste test didn't conjure up any accurate guesses, and people just shouted out descriptives: “peppery,” “kind of light but weirdly meaty,” “is this sour cream and onion's less attractive cousin?” After realizing what dish the flavor is trying to emulate, you'll start to notice that the hint of biscuits-and-gravy is very much there. It's nice if you want something lighter and savory. But, let's be real, this is still just a dollar bag of chips I got from the Walgreens down the street, not a plate of fluffy buttery southern biscuits and meaty, creamy gravy. 
  • Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries. The difficulty in converting a french fry flavor into a chip flavor is that if it's already a popular type of fries, the chip is likely going to have to try doubly hard to achieve the same effect, with the limitation of being flatter and drier. It makes sense that several people assumed this one would win, including myself. However, expectations and actual taste fell totally flat here. The truffle notes are incredibly light and faint, and you almost feel as if chomping on them harder in an animated, cartoon-y fashion might release them. Well, it doesn't. What's even more deceptive is that the chip is speckled heavily with a green seasoning, yielding even higher expectations of that super aromatic and fragrant truffle scent that we love. Again, this one isn't difficult to eat, but really, it's just disappointing. 
  • Kettle Cooked Greektown Gyro. This was the least popular of the flavors, with responses varying from “I'm confused” all the way to the international sign for choking. It's kettle cooked, so it's crunchy and tastes like feta and tzatziki, with recognizable notes of yogurt and dill. This sounds okay, except it was also mixed up with a meaty flavor, one that I suppose is meant to emulate spiced gyro meat? It ended up being way too over-seasoned and was the most synthetic tasting of the bunch. Despite sort of capturing gyro flavors, it just didn't meld as a chip. Actual tzatziki (which is cool, creamy, and delicious), on a real gyro is meant to complement the often strong or gamey taste of the meat. Indeed, this chip did make my boyfriend and his sister want to dunk the chip in a yogurt dip. Maybe that would've helped, actually. Lay's should run an accompanying dip category, if they're going to sell flavors that can't be captured in an instant-ramen-like seasoning. It also initially smells like Top Ramen, as well, which I'm not hating on — but I think I'll just go to my neighborhood Greek deli and grab a shawarma instead.
  • New York Reuben. The flavors on this one were accurately pronounced and did actually taste like the well-loved sandwich, with the essence of corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and even notes of rye bread intact. This one was my personal favorite, but as a novelty more than anything. However, while it was fun to eat as a chip, it ends up being a bit salty at the end, and you're left feeling hungry for an actual Reuben. The general consensus was positive, although nobody was actually smitten enough to call this one a game changer worth $1 million — except maybe a guy whose name is Reuben, who also loved these chips. But this just begs several unrelated questions. Was he already initially swayed by these “me chips,” as he so fondly calls them? Also, does Reuben put Reuben-flavored chips into his Reuben sandwich? Stay tuned. 

Final thoughts:
An issue I take up with a lot of these chip flavors is the fact that they're based off already-delicious food items. Why would one want a sandwich-flavored chip when they could be devouring the sandwich itself? Classic, old-school chip flavors like barbecue or sour cream and onion work because they're based off of condiments/sauces, garnishes, or complementary flavors that we'd be less likely to consume on our own — no judgment if you've chugged a bottle of ranch, of course — and when coated onto a chip as the vessel, doesn't subliminally make you want to head to an East Coast-style deli or get brunch. Rather, it just makes you want to grab another hearty handful — an act that I didn't feel compelled to do even once while sampling the above chips. 

So, here's to you, Ruffles Cheddar & Sour Cream potato chips. You still have my heart. Call me. 

Betty Wang is an SF-based glutton, writer, and editor. She also tweets @bettywrites and Instagrams @bettyishungry.

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