Keeping It Local: Special Snack Flavors

Culinary convergence sounds good in theory, but does it work? Ethan McAulay braves the challenges in the forms of som tam KitKat and Lay’s Grilled Shrimp/Seafood Dip chips.

April 12, 2017
Nestlé Thailand recently announced two new flavors of KitKat: Hazelnut and Cookies, and Double Chocolate. Both of them are delicious additions to the expanding stable of mid-afternoon treat options at your nearest convenience store, but neither of them are remarkable enough to warrant much more than a passing consideration.

How they decided to announce these new bars, however, was on another level altogether.

Introducing the som tam KitKat. Yes, som tam: the sour and spicy salad devoured the nation over. Nestlé actually decided, in the unending pursuit of exclusive flavors, to top a green tea-flavored KitKat with papaya, chilli, lime, and peanuts. While it was never going to be a true representation of the street food staple, the result is a sweet and unique twist on a snacktime favorite.

Unfortunately, this was a special media-only release, and won’t likely see the flourescent light of stores. But it’s the latest in a long line of specialty flavor additions created to appeal to local audiences. Japan is a goldmine for localized KitKat flavors, with endless listicles delving into the ingenious (and absurd) flavor combinations on offer there. Grilled potato, matcha, blueberry cheesecake, and even soy sauce flavors dominate the snack shelves across Japan. It’s all part of a tactic used by snack giants to add relevance to small regions of their global market, and to show that they know what it is that you, the local consumer, wants.

But is a som tam-flavored KitKat what Thai consumers want?
Lay’s has done the same. This time around, we are treated to two new “2-in-1” flavors created specifically for Thailand: Grilled Shrimp/Seafood Dip and Grilled Pork/Barbecue Sauce. If you aren’t already familiar with the concept, 2-in-1 is a double dose of flavor—where the flavor creators at Lay’s put two different flavors of chips in the same packet. Don’t like the shrimp flavor? Eat the green ones. Want to balance the pork and barbecue flavors? Choose your own flavor ratio. It’s a handy way to pack more into the humble potato chip. Apart from the shrimp flavor, which tastes a little too close to a puffy prawn cracker, the result is pretty convincing.

Aside from the broad marketing appeal, do these limited edition treats succeed in making the locals feel at home with an imported product? If the Asian examples are anything to go by, the flavors can generate cult appeal for their exclusivity and absurdity. The more bizarre the flavor, the better the hype machine will elevate it to legendary status.

Maybe a som tam KitKat isn’t such a bad idea after all...