When were Flamin' Hot Cheetos invented and who created the snack?
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When were Flamin' Hot Cheetos invented and who created the snack?

May 11, 2023

HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Roy Choi attends The Flamin Hot Spot, Cheetos new limited-time restaurant with his curated menu at Madera Kitchen on September 20, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Frito-Lay North America)

The new movie Flamin’ Hot is supposedly the true story of how the famous snack was invented. But how true to life is it, and when did these Cheetos first appear? The truth is a tad more complicated.

Directed by Eva Longoria, the film is based on the book A Boy, a Burrito and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez. It recounts the story Montañez has told scores of times that, in 1991, he was a simple janitor when the snack machine at his office broke down. Taking home a bag of Cheetos, Montañez seasoned them with his own homemade spices to create a hotter snack.

Montañez reached out to then-Frito Lays CEO Richard Enrico and, with research from the local library, pitched this version of the snack targeted at the Latino market. Impressed, the company agreed to a "soft launch" six months later, and in 1992, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos were produced as a full line.

To say the product was a hit is an understatement, as it's generated billions in revenue and rejuvenated the entire company. Montañez rose up the ranks of PepsiCo to become its VP of Marketing. The movie is based on his book and a great feel-food "rags to riches" account.

However, there may be a bit of tarnish on this "too good to be true" tale.

That Flamin’ Hot Cheetos debuted in 1992 is an undisputed fact. It's the origins of the snack that people debate. As much as Montañez has taken credit for it, there are records that the company was already working on the snack as early as 1989, two years before Montañez began working for the company. When Montañez began taking credit for it in the 2000s, the company just let him do it, likely enjoying the good publicity.

However, in 2018, Lynne Greenfield began making noise that she had developed the snack in 1989. An internal investigation may have played a part in Montañez leaving PepsiCo in 2019. A 2021 Los Angeles Times investigation detailed more discrepancies. However, it does seem that Montañez did make suggestions for additional snacks like Flamin’ Hot Popcorn.

Montañez himself has claimed to have no idea anyone else was working on the same idea he did and stands by his accounts. Frito-Lay has thanked him for his contributions as the argument rages. So it seems the movie may be a case of a man taking credit for something that was more a team effort but it does make it fascinating how many people are fighting for the credit for this snack.