In a recent episode of the Freakonomics Radio podcast, Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi, while detailing her experience at the helm of the food and beverage giant, made a comment about the different ways in which men and women consume chips and what that means from a marketing perspective. Her contention was that women are uncomfortable getting their hands dirty in public and there was a case for packaging them differently for the genders. In the January 31 episode, she said:
“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 flavour, 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 flavour into their mouth.”
Nooyi indicated that they would launch a women-oriented version of Doritos, the tortilla chips manufactured by Pepsico subsidiary Frito-Lays. “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,” she said, while describing the considerations driving the product.
This strain of the conversation was picked up by many publications over the weekend and soon became fodder for social media conversation. Many Twitter users lashed out at the concept of a woman-friendly bag of chips, criticising the various societal norms that marketers have cashed in on and exacerbated.
Combining humour with an important message, a lot of users pointed out that while women across the world were fighting for equality, they were literally being offered crumbs instead.
However, the remarks also paved the way for a wider conversation about how women are expected to live up to vastly different societal standards compared to men. Writer Caroline Siede pointed out that Nooyi herself acknowledged that women would love to eat messily, but are taught not to, as eating daintily is one of the many traits ascribed to femininity. Not just fast moving consumer goods but even restaurant and bar menus are often planned with that in mind. These stereotypes can also dictate men and women’s food preferences, research has shown.
Women’s complex relationship with food is well documented: as primary caregivers, they are expected to spend many hours of the day nourishing their families with food, while depriving themselves or not getting to relish it themselves. Huffington Post journalist Rituparna Chatterjee elaborated upon that in the Indian context. She said that it was common in Indian households for women, especially the mother, to deprive themselves of food and for men to be offered the best and largest portions of a dish. These discriminatory practices encompass a wide range, she explained, from expecting women to serve and clear up the food to encouraging them to eat only after the rest of the family has finished.
The thread was widely shared on Twitter and many fellow users chimed in with their own experiences.