Prepared Foods October 17, 2005 e-newsletter

Seeking to boost its appeal to health-conscious consumers, Frito-Lay Inc. plans to introduce "veggie" chips and fruit chips as early as next year, the company's top executive said.

Irene Rosenfeld, who has been chief executive of the Plano, Texas-based snack maker for just over a year, told a business networking group that she is aware her company is part of the "raging debate" over whether food or fitness is at the heart of the nation's growing obesity problem.

"At Frito-Lay, we face an enormous challenge in terms of obesity," she said, as nearly 190 attendees at the Network of Executive Women luncheon in Dallas looked on from tables adorned with potato chip centerpieces. "We know that Doritos and Cheetos are not mainstays of the food pyramid."

She said the company, owned by PepsiCo Inc., is investing heavily in developing healthier snacks.

Rosenfeld said Frito-Lay is looking at launching chips made with vegetables and fruit, as well as extending its popular multigrain SunChips snacks line. The company had tried a line of apple chips in the 1980s that was later dropped.

She declined to give details of the new products, for competitive reasons.

However, she said the company is "committed to transforming our portfolio to better provide consumers with 'good-for-you' snacks."

"I think you will see some of those items in the course of 2006," she said. Because Frito-Lay is the nation's largest snack maker, any further moves by the company into the healthy snacks niche is bound to have an impact on the industry, one expert said.

"They raise an eyebrow," said Lisa Katic, a registered dietitian with the Snack Food Association in Alexandria, Va. "If it takes off and is successful for Frito, (competitors) will want to look at it."