image of book cover, The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

Book Review: The Dorito Effect

image of book cover, The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

Have you ever consumed a whole bag of chips in one sitting? Have you opened a fresh pack of cookies only to realize the entire sleeve is already gone? The odds are, you have fallen guilty to mindless eating at some point in your consumption timeline, but do you know why?

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker sets out to outline why the power of flavor has taken control of not only shoppers purchasing behavior, but their minds as well. Flavor technology has become extraordinarily potent, and consumers have fallen for it.

The namesake of this book, the Dorito, is perhaps a founding point where shoppers began to think with taste over nutrition. Because of the weakening natural flavor of corn, the Dorito chips made by Frito-Lay didn’t taste as good as the traditional tortilla chips they imitated; Thus, The Dorito Effect – what happens when food gets blander, and technology gets better – was born.

As a society, our flavor sensing system - to put it lightly - is warped. And it’s because we are all held together by one common thread in our eating habits: every single one of us is wearing flavor goggles. When real foods taste bland, we pour ranch dressing over it. We ladle dollops of whipped cream onto our strawberries. We take chicken and dunk it in a deep fryer with buffalo sauce. The flavor of the food we eat is changing and has been for more than half a century.

Schatzker points out that just because we aren’t actively thinking about flavor, doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hiding in our brains all along. He goes on to state, “We might pretend we’re interested in vitamins, fish oil, and ketosis, but it’s flavor we’re after. We think in flavor, we dream about flavor, and we get up out of our chair in the 9th inning when bases are loaded to get it. We eat for one reason: because we love the way food tastes. Flavor is the original craving.”

Humans naturally seek foods with certain flavors because those flavors indicate nutrients that the body needs. Since those vitamins and minerals are not actually present, however, our bodies drive us to eat more to get them, leading directly to obesity. Humans have been interfering with the complicated science of food and it has evolved to guide our nutrition. As Schatzker eludes to, evolution did not cause an obesity pandemic; we have just tricked ourselves into craving the wrong foods.

Not all hope is lost, as Schatzker points out, “Technology got us into this mess, so technology can get us out.” Brands are getting smarter by the minute, and finding that sweet spot of flavor, nutrition, and value. We see this in our data every day with categories that have not “typically” been considered healthy options in the past. In the last year, alcohol and chocolates have set the tone for pivoting products to remain nutritious, without giving up the flavor that we all love. In confections, SPINS proprietary positioning groups revealed natural chocolates grew 15%, significantly outpacing conventional 3% growth, while alcohol saw a 49% growth in Specialty and Natural Enhanced channels.

As Schatzker points out, “If consumers demand real flavor, and if they pay a little bit more for it, then real flavor is what they will get. It’s already happened with wine. It’s already happened with craft beer. Let’s make it happen with food.” We don’t have to live by the guidelines of flavor vs. nutrition. At its core, this book proves we don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. You can have both.

If you’re interested in putting an end to your flavor blind spot, head over to our SPINS blog to catch up on the latest data proving we can get back to the basics and enjoy them!

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