Doritos parent Pepsico sparked debate recently after its CEO noted that men and women eat crisps differently and that there could be room for a new version of Doritos which addresses this.

While this was perceived by some as pitting the sexes against each other, and predictably resulted in alarm, there is growing evidence that some people do want the option of silent snacking.

Researchers at Colorado State and Brigham Young Universities have previously established a link between the sound food makes and the amount consumers eat. The so-called “crunch effect” means that people are likely to eat less if they are more conscious of the sounds they are making while eating.

Low-crunch crisps

But back to Pepsico for now. Speaking to Freakonomics Radio, CEO Indra Nooyi implied that there could be potential for a quieter, less crunchy version of Doritos for those who “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public”. The mistake was to suggest that this would be women.

Following her remarks, Nooyi was asked whether Pepsico would consider a male and a female Doritos.

“It’s not a male and female as much as, ‘Are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?’ And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon,” Nooyi said. “For women, low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavour stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.”

A UK newspaper reported that Nooyi had said a ‘lady Doritos’ launch was on the horizon, which led to the inevitable social media backlash, highlights of which include:

Doritos was quick to rebuke talk of it launching a specific crisp for women. A spokesperson quipped: “We already have Doritos for women – they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day.”

However, more generally, Nooyi’s point that not everyone wants to “crunch too loudly in public” or to “lick their fingers generously” or to “pour the little broken pieces […] into their mouths” is true.

No clear gender boundaries

Plenty of cinema and theatre goers do not want to sit next to someone rustling or chomping or finger licking – and there will be no publicity here for the minefield that is office desk appropriate snacking.

There are two important consumer trends of note here. First is the blurring of gender boundaries and how this is influencing the products people buy – successful launches for men in traditionally female categories such as make-up and rosé wine speak to this. Against this backdrop it is always going to be hard to argue that men and women need a different kind of crisp.

In fact GlobalData research has found there is little demand for snacks designed on the basis of gender. GlobalData measured the importance of 20 motivations to buy a savoury snack for each gender, and men and women agreed on the top motivations. Furthermore, the desire for a gender-specific snack ranked bottom of 20 for women – with premiumisation and indulgence ranking top for both sexes.

The second consumer trend of note is that people have many and varying needs from the products they buy, and they want products that are tailored to those needs. The data speaks for itself on this: globally, the majority (58%) of consumers are often or always influenced by how well a product is tailored to their needs or personality when making food choices (GlobalData Q3 2016 consumer survey).