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Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Chip off the Old Corporate Block

The next time you reach for a Dorito, consider its rounded corners. Those beveled vertices are soft, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the great Dorito makeover of 1994, they came to sharp points, just like at your friendly Mexican restaurant. In the company of a good sangria, who hasn’t felt the prick?

I first became aware of Doritos’ rounded corners ten years ago on a tour at a Frito-Lay factory. When we got to the Dorito production line, our host showed us the metal molds, each with a myriad of soft-cornered triangular negative spaces awaiting infusions of cornmeal. No sharp points; fewer law suits to worry about, he confessed.

That explanation, of course, was never part of the official Pepsi/Frito-Lay party line back in 1994. (Nor will you find it in Dorito’s present-day Wikipedia entry.) It’s easier to eat them without the sharp corners, noted Jerry Vogel, Frito-Lay’s then Director of Corn Products in a 1994 New York Times article. . . a lot of the scrap in the bag, he added, was from the corners breaking off.

Will the real Dorito take a bow!

No doubt about that, but back then high-profile lawsuits against food manufacturers/purveyors and, of course, the tobacco industry, were all the rage and the source of deep-dish corporate neuroses. Remember the great McDonald’s scalding coffee incident of 1992? Seinfeld did, in an episode when Kramer bungled a sure-thing settlement in the wake of a scalding latte tucked inside his pants. Who told you to put the balm on? demanded his motor-mouth attorney, Jackie Chiles. In a later episode, Jackie experienced similar frustration when Kramer kissed off a windfall from the tobacco companies. But by redesigning the Dorito for architectural superiority, Frito-Lay made its chip litigiously bullet proof. And brace yourself--they did consumers a favor.

View the legal tete a tete here.

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