Last week, CEO of PepsiCo, went on the pop economics podcast Freakonomics to report that the company, which oversees its chip division Doritos, was considering releasing what has been snarkily coined by Twitter as “Lady Doritos”—a less crunchy, “quieter” chip.
In the podcast, host Stephen Dubner (who co-authored the podcast’s eponymous book) asked Nooyi about the differences in how men and women eat chips.
When you eat out of a flex bag—one of our single-serve bags—especially as you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor, and the broken chips in the bottom. Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers generously and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.
Nooyi goes on to say that creating a “male and female” version of the chip wasn’t necessarily the goal so much as designing and packaging the chip to be a more palatable version of Doritos (whose tagline is “For the bold”) for women. “For women, low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavor stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.”
Nooyi doesn’t cite focus groups or studies the company has done to come to this conclusion, but it would be in direct opposition to research done by “gastrophysicist” and experimental psychologist Charles Spence, who conducted a study published in 2004 in The Journal of Sensory Studies on a simple rule for chip manufacturers: the crunchier the chip, the more satisfying it was deemed to be—for both genders. Spence told The Daily Beast via email that he found no discernible difference between genders in either this study or a follow-up review on the impact of noise in our perception of food and drink.
Spence conducted his study with Pringles and 20 subjects, who were hooked up to a microphone and a pair of headphones within a soundproof booth. The participants were instructed to take a single bite of nearly 200 original flavor Pringles, spit out the bite, and rate whether the chip was crisp and/or fresh—based solely on the crunch. As The New Yorker profiled in 2015, each participant could hear their own crunch, but didn’t know that what they were hearing was also doctored by Spence, who either amplified or muffled the sound of the crunch to judge the correlation between crunch sound and crisp/fresh factor. The crunchier the chip crunch sound, the more (15 percent was measured here) fresh the chip was deemed.
Nooyi suggests that chip crunchiness is related to how women want to appear in public. While the participants in this study were isolated and listened to their own crunching, the universal agreement, regardless of gender, was the fact that crunchy chips were judged to be better in taste and freshness. While it’s certainly possible that some people are sensitive and self-conscious to making noises as they eat or observe that in others, it’s certainly not true—at least in Spence’s research on the perception of chip crunchiness—that gender plays a role in how women “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public.” In fact, in his review of the effect of noise on food perception, Spence found that silence can have negative effects in how people perceive taste, dulling their sense of sweet and salt. He also pointed to a cautionary review published in February 2016 that found using sex as a proxy explanation for differences problematic, particularly for topics that don’t have anything to do with genetic differences.
In the case of Dorito crunching, we can safely say that no matter what gender you identify as, humans universally like a crunchy chip.