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It’s pretty easy being cheesy: Cheetos Mac ‘n Cheese

November 2020

This is a self-funded case study using our Innovation Testing solution.

Cheetos is best-known for its classic ‘cheese puff’ snacks, with the adaptability of its signature cheesy flavors outside the brand’s traditional remit not being widely explored – up until now.

Cheetos Mac ‘n Cheese made its debut in Walmart stores in August and will soon be available nation-wide. The product is a new twist on a household favorite, coming in three distinctly ‘Cheetos’ flavors: Bold & Cheesy, Cheesy Jalapeno, and – of course – Flamin’ Hot.

Using our three C’s framework, we evaluated the in-market potential of Cheetos’ expansion into boxed meals.

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and elicit a positive emotional response?
  • Connect: Is the brand instantly recognizable?
  • Compel: Does it pre-dispose people toward purchase?


The packaging stood out and grabbed people’s attention, with the bold, two-tone color palette cutting through amongst a largely monotone category.

Having the backing of a brand which is considered an authority on cheese, the uniquely Cheetos flavor dustings were a new twist for an established category – creating significant excitement in the process.

New Product Testing - Cheetos Mac 'n Cheese - Captivate metric performance


Being a familiar and trusted brand with a long history offering cheese-based snacks meant people considered Mac ‘n Cheese a good fit with Cheetos. The brand’s expansion into boxed meals aligned with the things Cheetos is already renowned for: fun, tasty, convenient, and – most importantly – cheesy.

Design cues built further synergies, with the brand’s long-standing ambassador – Chester Cheetah – being highly recognizable. More broadly, emphasizing oranges and reds helped recall the brand’s wider product range, conveying a distinctly ‘Cheetos’ look and feel.

Innovation Testing - Cheetos Mac 'n Cheese - Connect metric performance


Cheetos’ new twist on Mac ‘n Cheese was considered significantly different to what’s currently available on grocery store shelves, with the flavor range arousing people’s curiosity and exciting their taste buds.

“Bold & Cheesy” had the widest appeal, representing much of what it is that people love about Cheetos.

Further encouraging trial was the product’s attractive pricing, with almost everyone considering the $1 per box (a small serving for one) to offer good value for money.


Fundamental to the success of a category extension is ensuring the product synergizes with masterbrand perceptions. This is critical given the wrong product extension risks clouding the associations people have with the endorser brand, subsequently damaging hard-earned equity.

By adapting its distinctive assets and carrying through the signature flavors that define the brand to so many, Cheetos Mac ‘n Cheese was able to cut-through the clutter in a saturated category and elevate itself to the top of people’s consideration sets.

We were supported by leading market research technology platform Cint to collect data from respondents in the US.

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