Gen Z Loves Having Chip Fingers

A new poll shows where young people stand on flavor dust.

Doritos, Cheetos, Takis—some of the best snacks are coated in neon-colored flavor dust that gets all over your fingers, requiring either a wet nap or (ugh) some serious finger-licking to remove. Whether you enjoy this attribute in your favorite chips might be based on when you were born: Frito-Lay's recently published its Snack Index, a roundup of polling centered around snacking preferences, and found some interesting correlations between young people and messy foods.

"Gen Z notes a love for flavor 'dust,' with nearly 3 in 5 (59%) preferring snacks that leave remnants on their fingers, compared to just 40% overall," the Snack Index notes. That means while elder millennials might shy away from foods with sticky, grainy remnants, people born after the late '90s have fewer qualms with being coated. But why, exactly?

"This finding aligns with what we continue to see from younger generations, including a gravitation towards bold and spicy flavors—not only among their favorite snacks, but overall food preferences, as well," Denise Lefebvre, SVP of R&D at PepsiCo, told The Takeout via email. "Because flavor dust is often added to our snacks as a way to boost boldness, flavor and spice, it makes sense that Gen Z snackers lean [into] those types of offerings."

So it's not necessarily that young people prefer these snacks because they produce dusty fingers, but rather, the flavor dust is indicative of what Gen Z is always searching for: intense, often wildly exaggerated flavors.

"I think our Gen Z consumers want an experience when they snack, and the spices and flavor left behind on their fingers is part of the fun of that experience," Lefebvre noted.

Chip dust has always been a strange phenomenon within the snacking landscape. In 2020, Frito-Lay officially trademarked its Cheeto dust, naming it Cheetle—a quasi-portmanteau word that continues to baffle us. Chip dust enjoyment is, perhaps, a juvenile phase that is eventually outgrown. Having dirty fingers is a young man's game! As an adult, you won't catch me licking my fingers.

Another noteworthy finding from the Snack Index is the confirmation that younger people are more curious. Millennial (67%) and Gen Z (57%) respondents were more likely to try a new snack, whereas baby boomers were more apprehensive, with only 38% expressing interest.

A strange data point included in the report is that "only 3 in 10 Americans have gotten into an argument over snack flavors." I'm unsure if this is a big or a small number, and "only" is doing some heavy lifting in that sentence. Were we expecting more Americans to be ready to verbally spar over chip flavors at a moment's notice? What kind of argument are we talking about here? It's one thing if two friends disagree on whether the Cheddar & Sour Cream chips are better than the Barbecue Puffs, but I'd be much more interested if this statistic meant that 30% of Americans have had relationship-altering arguments and massive screaming matches over chip flavors. Imagine not talking to your aunt for five years because she won't concede that Honey BBQ Flavor Twist Fritos are better than Chili Cheese Fritos.