Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Smiths Chips exposed - and reviewed

Last week Smiths Chips and Red Rock Deli Chips released 9 new snackfood varieties between them, so naturally I had to test them out.
However, during the process of reviewing them, I started to see that something wasn't right... something was suspicious behind the launch of these products between two Brands within the same company, and it would take this journalist of 16 years, some investigative digging to uncover the truth.
A truth that Smiths Chips probably doesn't want consumers to know about.... in that they've made sure the general public do not realise that Red Rock Chips belongs to the American-owned Smiths Chips/PepsiCo company.  By doing that, they can make it look like three different companies are fighting over the Corn-Chips and Slow-Cooked Chips market, when in reality it is just two, with one company willing to compete against itself just to take market share from their only rival (Kettle in the Slow-Cooked Chips category, CCs in the Corn Chips category).

And I wouldn't have noticed this if I hadn't recently done a short article on the history of Smiths Chips in Australia (how it, and some of our Australian Brands, has changed hands over the years), because listed under Smiths Chips Brands on this wiki page is Red Rock Deli.
The reason why I wouldn't have even known about this without looking at that link? - neither website acknowledges the other.  Smiths Chips doesn't include Red Rock as one of its many snackfood Brands, while Red Rock doesn't say anywhere that it is a part of Smiths Chips, or even owned by the parent company, PepsiCo (you can see on that link, PepsiCo owns both, but Red Rock doesn't want anyone to know about it on their website or their packaging).
So even the Red Rock Chips packaging has no mention of Smiths or PepsiCo... except the master carton of their Variety Pack, which clearly states that Red Rock is made by Smiths Chips.  So one was left on, possibly by accident.
So Red Rock can say that they are Australian made, but hide the fact that they are American owned... or that they are part of Smiths Chips (or at the very least, partnered with Smiths Chips under the PepsiCo banner).

Just to be sure, I rang up the Customer Service phone number for Red Rock Deli, to ask if they were indeed part of Smiths Chips, or at least, owned by Pepsico.  The nice lady on the other end of the line said that they were, and that she was surprised that their website and packaging has no mention of it.  She was even surprised that there was nothing mentioned on the Smiths Chips website, as she was sure that they were part of the same company.
Just to be sure, I rang up Smiths Chips Customer Service, and asked "Is Red Rock Deli Chip a part of Smiths Chips?", with the answer being "yes".

So now it was verified by the source that Smiths and Red Rock are part of the same company, I could then look into working out why they were competing with themselves with Corn Chips and Slow-Cooked chips.

Basically, before last week:
- Red Rock Deli produced (mostly) slow-cooked potato chips.
- Smith's Chips produced "Doritos", which were (mostly) corn chips.

That meant that the Smiths Chips Snackfood /PepsiCo umbrella of brands, they already had an established range of corn chips by one of their major brands (Doritos), and slow-cooked chips by another of their major brands (Red Rock).
However, from the nine new items launched last week, five of them are Smiths Extra Crunchy (Slow-Cooked potato chips), while four of them are Red Rock Deli Corn Chips.

It made me ask, why would each of these major Smiths brands need to produce what they already have an established Brand producing?

Then I realised that their main rivals (Kettle Chips & CCs) have recently been growing momentum in their respective fields, with new flavours to each, and being Australian-owned.  It can be a valuable marketing tool to claim "Aussie Owned", and would be why Red Rock Deli won't declare itself as being American owned on its packaging or website.
So, the only way to regain their market share in those two areas is to create a "three cornered" contest/approach. They could have easily added the new Corn Chips flavours to their Doritos Brand, and the new Slow-Cooked flavours to their Red Rock Brand, but now they can fool the consumer into thinking they have three different Company/Brands to choose from... or at the very least, capitalise on the "random grab/purchase" of whatever is available.
So when people see three brands of Slow-Cooked chips, of comparable pricing and quality, it looks like three different companies, when in fact the 5 new Smiths varieties should have just been 5 new Red Rock varieties. And as you'll see in the review below, the 5 specific flavours were chosen for a reason - specifically targeting Kettle flavours, not Red Rock flavours.

Okay, enough of the exposé... onto the fun part - the taste testing.

Smith's Extra Crunchy

Those who are from the UK will be thinking these look familiar... and that's because Smiths are copying the packaging of Walkers Chips in the UK, who have their own "Extra Crunchy" range (including a Flamed Grilled Steak flavour too).  But don't think they are stealing a competitor's packaging, because Walkers are owned by Pepsico, like Smiths are. (on a side note, Walkers even have a logo similar to Lays (which is Pepsico's American chip brand)).

Not only have Smiths copy Walker's packaging style and one of their flavours (Steak), but in the photo above you can see that Smiths have copied Kettle Chips with the other 4 of their 5 flavours.
So nothing is unique about this range.
Could they be any lazier?
It's almost like they aren't trying to bring Australia anything new. They just want to compete with Kettle Chips by giving us five copied flavours.
It's almost defeatist when you're seen to just be copying your competition... especially when you've failed to bring even one NEW product from it all. Then again, maybe Smiths are upset with CCs copying their Doritos colours and flavours, and are taking it out on Kettle instead.

The five flavours...

Simply Salted
Standard plain flavour that tastes exactly like the two existing plain varieties from Kettle and Red Rock. 2.5/5

Salt & Vinegar
Another standard flavour, that is salty and vinegary... nothing special here. 2.5/5

Not too hot, and sweeter than Kettle's version. 2/5

Honey Glazed Ham
A very bacony taste to it, but not much honey to it. Another flavour that tastes very similar to Kettle's version 3/5

Flame Grilled Steak
Now this is the only unique flavour of the five... it's just a shame that Smiths had to cheat by copying their sister-company's flavour in the UK.   This flavour is quite nice, as it tastes like a well done steak. I am very impressed with this flavour being so "real", but there isn't anything in the ingredients to give a beef taste, so must be an artificial flavour additive. (a lot of snack foods have the word "flavours" listed as an ingredient, without saying what it actually is - for all we know it could be cyanide... as they seem to be allowed to disguise chemicals as "flavours" without being obligated to let us consumers know what we are really eating) 4/5

(since doing this review, I have done a comparison taste-test between the three Brands (Kettle, Red Rock, Smiths Extra Crunchy) to see how each compares, and will post that up later)

Red Rock Deli
Notice the black dots on these Corn Chips.  Those are poppy seeds, giving these a unique texture and visual appearance. Kinda makes them more "gourmet". It probably adds to the flavour as well, but can't really tell with the flavourings.

Fire Roasted Red Chilli & Lime
A flavour already done by Kettle Chips, this one is much the same - strong with both chilli and lime. Too strong actually. 2/5

Trio of Cheeses
My favourite of the four, but VERY salty for a cheese flavour. The three cheeses are meant to be Parmesan, Mature Cheddar and Feta.  The first two are very strong flavoured cheeses, so the third one is kinda moot if it is a mild one. I would have given this a 5 if it weren't so damn salty. 3.5/5

Jalepeno Pepper & Mature Chedder
Despite having Chilli and Jalepeno flavour ingredients in this one, it is not as hot as the Chilli & Lime flavour. Can barely taste the cheese flavour. 2.5/5

Sea Salt
Just tastes like ordinary plain corn chips, which I find boring without flavouring or a dip. 2/5

As you can see, "gourmet" Corn Chips can work under the Red Rock banner, but would make more sense under the Doritos banner, and would build up a more diverse, dominant Corn Chip Brand here (so is probably a good thing for the Aussie-owned CCs that Red Rock are doing these instead).
As for the Slow-Cooked chips though, there was no need for it to be done under the Smiths banner. These were never designed to conflict with anything by Red Rock, so should have been packaged that way. But I guess Red Rock are so diverse with all their many flavours, several more would have been lost, or impacted on the quantity sold of each existing & new flavour.
Not sure if I'll buy any of these again though.
The Steak flavour was my favourite, but in the end it was a bit too strong with the flavour.  Same with the Cheese Trio flavour, as it is was the nicest flavour of the Corn Chips, but way too salty to eat too many of.

Kettle used to have the best of the "gourmet" flavours (Sweet Chilli & Sour Cream), but since they stopped making it about 2 years ago, my current favourite is now Red Rock's Dijon Mustard & Honey. Which is very addictive.
When Red Rock first came on the market to compete with the existing Kettle Chips, it took them a couple years to get the Chips cooked right (they started out with a crispy, almost like a crunchy prawn-cracker, texture), but now that they have copied the Kettle style of crunchiness, they have been able to replicate it again with their new Smiths Extra Crunchy... because all three were virtually identical (that review is coming soon).
Here's a sneak peak:

You know, I remember when chips flavours were just Plain, Chicken, BBQ and Salt&Vinegar... now look at the variety of weird and unusual flavours out there.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analysis! I can tell someone likes their food :D
    Can you tell me if 'Thins' are Australian owned? And why dont they sell 'Lays' in Aus anymore?
    Looking forward to more articles on chippies!