Richard Montañez is speaking out after Frito-Lay’s allegations that he did not invent Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos.
“I was their greatest ambassador,” says Montañez Variety from Frito-Lay. “But I will say this, you will love your company more than they will love you, keep this in perspective.”
Montañez, who went from caretaker to company to marketing executive, has a book being released about his history from poverty to wealth and is the subject of a future Biographical film from Searchlight Pictures directed by Eva Longoria. However, an article on Sunday in Los Angeles Times challenged Montañez’s role in inventing the beloved snack, supported by statements from Frito-Lay.
“None of our records show that Richard was involved in any role in the Flamin ‘Hot testing market,” wrote Frito-Lay in a statement to the Times. “We interviewed several people who were involved in the test market, and all indicate that Richard was not involved in any role in the test market. This does not mean that we do not celebrate Richard, but the facts do not support urban legend. “
Instead, the Times article reports that a junior employee at Frito-Lay’s Texas corporate office named Lynne Greenfeld was assigned to develop the Flamin ‘Hot brand in 1989. According to the Times, she came up with the name and helped bringing the product to markets across the U.S. Greenfeld contacted Frito-Lay in 2018 after hearing Montañez’s story, sparking an internal investigation that concluded with the claim that Montañez is not the inventor of Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos.
“We value Richard’s many contributions to our company, especially his insights into Hispanic consumers, but we do not attribute him to the creation of Flamin ‘Hot Cheetos or any Flamin’ Hot product,” said Frito-Lay in a statement to the Times. .
Montañez disputes Frito-Lay’s statements and the Times article, saying Variety that he had not heard of Greenfeld until now and noted that they worked for different divisions of the company. Representatives of Frito-Lay did not immediately respond to VarietySeveral requests for comment.
“At that time, Frito-Lay had five divisions,” says Montañez. “I don’t know what the other parts of the country are like, the other divisions – I don’t know what they were doing. I’m not even going to try to challenge that lady, because I don’t know. All I can say is what I did. All I have is my story, what I did in my kitchen. “
Montañez claims that he started presenting product ideas for Frito-Lay in the late 1980s, while working as a caretaker for the company.
“Frito-Lay had something called a method improvement program, looking for ideas. It kind of inspired me, so I always had these ideas for different flavors and products, ” Montañez says. “The only difference in what I did, is that I made the product, instead of just writing the idea on a piece of paper and sending it. They would forward these products to the right people and I didn’t know, because I was just a front-line employee. “
It wasn’t until 1991, Montañez says he personally presented his product ideas to former Frito-Lay executive Al Carey and then PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico in two separate meetings. Carey also noted some of Montañez’s involvement in the Flamin ‘hotline for LAT.
But the Times reports that Enrico was not yet working for the company when the Flamin ’Hot brand was developed. According to the Times, “Enrico’s move to Frito-Lay was announced in December 1990, and he took over in early 1991 – almost six months after Flamin ‘Hots was already in the test market.”
When asked about the test markets, Montañez says he was largely “pushed out” of that process. He says that Frito-Lay sent a scientist to help him in his own test market, but by that time they had already developed their own seasoning.
“When we created our seasoning, it wasn’t at the factory. It was in my kitchen, in my garage. So we send it to headquarters, ” Montañez says. “When the head office developed a new product, they sent an entire team. With me, they sent a scientist. At this point, they already had seasoning, because they are not going to use something that made someone sick. We did 2,000 cases. We sent it to the zones, to the warehouses where they were going to test the market. At this point, they kicked me out. “
Montañez says Frito-Lay’s statement that McCormick had already developed Flamin ‘Hot seasoning in December 1989 It “makes sense” with the timeline he remembers. As for the discrepancies between his and Frito-Lay’s stories, Montañez believes that the lack of documentation due to his low-level work is to blame.
“Nobody was saying to me, ‘This is how executives work’. I wasn’t a supervisor, I was the least important ”, Montañez says. “ME I think that may be one of the reasons why they have no documentation about me. Why would they do that? “
Montañez’s representative, Steven Montañez, added: “The recipe and flavors that Richard created, of course, when they were ready to be mass produced, Frito-Lay adjusted them and did whatever was necessary to put them on Marketplace. But Richard was never part of it because his position had nothing to do with it. He was not a trader, he was not in R&D, he was not in sales – he was a general-purpose machine operator, who is a janitor. “
As for the next Montañez-centered film, the Times said its producers were informed of the results of the Frito-Lay investigation in 2019, but decided to move on. On May 4, the members of the main cast of the biographical film were announced: Jessie Garcia and Annie Gonzalez.
Montañez says he is “not worried” that the film will be affected by Frito-Lay’s claims. Longoria representatives did not comment on the matter, and representatives from Franklin and Searchlight Pictures did not immediately respond to the VarietyRequests for comment.
“I think that [the film is] it will inspire people to do the right thing. Do not make the mistake that Montañez made. Document everything, ”he says. “The story is not really about Hot Cheetos. The story is about how to overcome adversity and racial discrimination. “