This woman’s entire job is inventing junk food-fast food hybrids

The KFC Cheetos Chicken Sandwich
Photo: Noam Galai (Getty Images for KFC)
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The hybridizing of snack food and fast food shows no signs of slowing. The birth of the Taco Bell Doritos Loco Taco in 2012 ushered in a golden-fried age of crossovers, recently culminating in KFC’s Chicken Cheetos Sandwich (great) and Pizza Hut’s Stuffed Cheez-It Pizza (less so). Who’s paid to come up with junk food fever dreams like these? A woman named Dena vonWerssowetz.

Fast Company recently profiled vonWerssowetz and her fascinating job at PepsiCo, where she is tasked with “inventing the next sensational crossover menu item.” PepsiCo owns Frito-Lay, so vonWerssowetz spends much of her time trying to figure out how to cram Doritos, Fritos, Cheetos, and other -itos (plus Ruffles) into our fast food.

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The profile is a must-read for anyone who spends even a third as much time as we do thinking about fast food and what it takes to develop a new menu item. According to the vonWerssowetz, sometimes the process is simple, as was the case with Cheetos popcorn developed for the Regal chain of theaters: “What is the best-selling snack at a movie theater? Popcorn. Maybe we should get Cheetos on some popcorn!”

Other times, it’s an alchemical reaction of just the right snack food with just the right fast food chain that creates something iconic—for every hit, apparently, there are 100 misses. Oh, what we would pay to see the creations discarded on the cutting room floor. If you’re as intrigued as we are, give the Fast Company profile a read, and join us as we try to figure out where our career paths went so wrong.

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About the author

Kate Bernot

Kate Bernot is managing editor at The Takeout and a certified beer judge.