As I was wandering the snack food aisle of the local gas station/minimart the other day, I noticed some flavors of familiar brands that I'd never seen before. Not surprisingly, I couldn't resist picking some up, and giving them a go. The ones I settled on were Sweetos (from Cheetos, obviously), Sweet & Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bugles, and two kinds of Combos--Sweet & Salty Vanilla Frosting Pretzel, and Sweet & Salty Caramel Creme Pretzel.
Now I'll jump to some brief backgrounds of these brands. Cheetos are a puffed corn snack dusted with cheese made by Frito-Lay out of Texas, a division of PepsiCo since 1965. Frito-Lay is actually the world's largest snack food company in the U.S. and the world, accounting for 40% and 35% of total sales, respectively. Some of their most popular brands are Fritos, Lays and Ruffles potato chips, and Doritos. Made since 1968, Cheetos are sometimes given different flavors in other countries, such as Steak and Strawberry Cheetos in Japan, and American Cream Cheetos in China. Their mascot is Chester Cheetah, a sunglass-wearing cool defender of the downtrodden. On a more comic note (to me anyway) Cheetos thought to resemble Michael Jackson and Jesus (named "Cheesus") have been sold on Ebay in the past decade.
Bugles are a General Mills product. This Minnesota based company owns many brands, such as Yoplait yogurt, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, Old El Paso Mexican food products, and many breakfast cereals, among others. Bugles were invented in 1966, along with sister snacks Daisies, Whistles, Buttons, Bows, and Pizza Spins, each designed to have a shape like their name. Only Bugles lived past infancy, so to speak. Other unusual Bugles flavors are Sweet & Salty Caramel, Ketchup, and Coriander.
Combos are the youngest of these snacks, being developed in the mid 1970's by Eagle Snacks, the snack food division of Anheuser-Busch. Since 1996 they have been owned by Mars, International, out of Virginia, which mainly markets sweet candies and chocolate. Combos are hard hollow pretzels filled with cheese. Combos are heavily involved with NASCAR, as they sponsor driver Kyle Busch, and are the official cheese-filled snack of NASCAR. (I don't know what is the official cheese coated snack of NASCAR, or official potato-based snack, pickle-based snack, sugar-based snack, etc.)
Growing up, I had all of these brands, and developed my own opinion of them. Cheetos are decent cheese snacks, but I prefer the softer, puffier Utz, Herr's, and Wise brand version (called cheese curls/doodles). All of these are messy to eat, as the orange cheese dust coats your fingers after only a couple of them. Bugles were okay, but not one of my favorites Their cone-shaped form is undeniably fun, though--I'll bet few kids who had them could successfully fight the impulse to put them on the ends of their fingers and pretend they had witch's nails, or monster talons. Combos were strange. The first time I had one I really liked it. But I quickly learned that a little goes a long way. Invariably I got sick of them after I had only a few. Finishing even a small bag was typically a chore. This is probably partially due to my feelings about pretzels. As a native of the Philadelphia area, I'm inclined to prefer the larger (about hand-sized, or bigger), soft, mustard-coated version of a pretzel to the smaller, hard pretzels. Combos are the smaller, harder pretzel type.
Anyway, here's my take on these four new flavors, worst to best. As usual, I'll use the U.S. scholastic system of grading--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, "F" for failure, with pluses (+) and minuses (-) as necessary.
1) Combos Sweet & Salty Caramel Creme Pretzel: D. Look like regular Combos, only the filling is whitish instead of yellow. Much more salty than sweet. Caramel flavor isn't very good. This marriage of two differing flavors doesn't work.
2) Combos Sweet & Salty Vanilla Frosting Pretzel: D+. Appear like regular Combos, only with a brown filling. Similar to the Caramel Creme, this was pretty nasty. Again, more salty than sweet. Slightly better than Caramel Creme, but still bad.
3) Sweetos (Cheetos) Cinnamon Sugar Puffs: B+. These are rings, about an inch and a half in diameter. Not cheesy or savory, just sweet. Reminded me strongly of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and that's a good thing.
4) Sweet & Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter Bugles: A. These looked like regular Bugles except they're brown instead of yellow. Very chocolate-y and creamy. Really enjoyed these.
To sum up, then, I liked two and disliked two. Unlike with the regular Combos, I disliked these new kinds from the first one, and didn't finish more than a few of them. For the Sweetos and Bugles I finished the bags happily. But, I still do give credit to Combos for trying something new, even if these innovations didn't work this time. I will certainly try other exotic flavors of Combos (and other snack foods) if/when I get the chance. If you're interested in trying out the Sweetos, though, be forewarned--they're listed as being available only for a limited time. (Although that would presumably change if they sell well, I guess.)