Arch West, a Frito-Lay executive who invented the crunchy, triangular tortilla chips known as “Doritos,” a fingertip-licking snack of choice for legions of couch-lounging football fans, highway-cruising truck drivers and munchie-craving college kids, died Sept. 20 at a hospital in Dallas. He was 97.
He had complications from vascular surgery, said his daughter, Jana Hacker.
Mr. West had worked as a traveling cheese salesman and Madison Avenue advertising manager handling the Jell-O account before he had a chip epiphany.
He was on a family vacation in Southern California in 1964 when he first bought a grease-smeared bag of toasted tortillas at a roadside shack.
As marketing vice president at Frito-Lay, Mr. West immediately sensed he had stumbled upon a snacking phenomenon.
When he returned to work, Mr. West pitched his idea: a crispy, triangle-shaped corn chip that would complement the company’s lighter Lay’s potato chip and the thicker, curly Frito.
The original toasted corn chips were released nationally in 1966 and marketed under the Spanish-sounding name “Doritos.” An early television commercial for Doritos called them “a swinging, Latin sort of snack.”
According to the 2006 Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food, Doritos are sold in 20 countries. (The “Doritos” entry is below “Domino’s Pizza” and above “Doughnuts.”)
In the 52-week period ending last February, more than 924 million bags of Doritos were sold in America, said Chris Clark, a spokesman for the Snack Food Association.
A Doritos spokeswoman, Aurora Gonzalez, wrote in an e-mail that global sales of Doritos tortilla chips in 2010 were nearly $5 billion.
Bags of Doritos now come in flavors such as 3rd Degree Burn Scorchin’ Habanero, Pizza Supreme, and Blazin’ Buffalo and Ranch.
Mr. West ate Doritos his entire life and was sometimes sent batches to taste-test. About three months ago, he tried a new flavor, Late Night All Nighter Cheeseburger.
Mr. West took one bite and spit it out.
Archibald Clark West was born Sept. 8, 1914, in Indianapolis to Scottish immigrants.
After his father died of peritonitis, Mr. West and younger brother grew up in a Masonic home because their mother was too poor to care for them.
He received a scholarship to attend Franklin College in Indiana, where he studied business, and graduated in 1936. He served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II.
After school, he worked as a traveling sales representative for Standard Brands before moving to New York to join the advertising industry, where he worked on campaigns for Jell-O flavored gelatins and puddings.
In 1960, he joined the Frito Co. in Dallas. A year later, the company merged with H.W. Lay and Co. to form Frito-Lay. The snackmaker became part of the Pepsi-Cola Co. in 1965.
According to his daughter, Mr. West was friends with David Pace, the founder of Pace salsas and Picante sauce. When Pace’s products were slow to move off the shelves, he asked Mr. West for advice.
Mr. West suggested moving Pace’s tomato-based dips away from the ketchup aisle and having them placed next to the chips. Sales took off.
In 1971, Mr. West retired as executive vice president of Frito-Lay.
His wife of 69 years, the former Charlotte F. Thompson, died in 2010.
Besides his daughter, of Allen, Tex., survivors include three sons, Greg West of Columbus, Tex., Dick West of Las Vegas, and Jack West of New Milford, Conn.; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
Mr. West’s cremated remains will be placed in an urn and buried in a vault, his daughter said. At a memorial service, family members will dust his grave with a layer of Doritos.
Ashes to ashes, crunch to crunch.