Cheetos: Germany’s Forbidden Fruit

  • The true story behind why Germany banned Cheetos in favor of a product that doesn’t exist.

Here in the U.S., Cheetos are ubiquitous — they’re sold at every single grocery store and gas station. But leave the country and Cheetos become an expensive import.

But in Germany, the situation is different. You can’t find Cheetos at all. Or can you?

Let’s say you’re visiting Germany and you pop into the international foods aisle. You might spot a strangely familiar orange bag on the shelves — with a sticker slapped over the brand name and Chester Cheetah’s face.

This bizarre censorship is due to a simple reason. Cheetos are illegal in Germany.

But what about the cheesy snacks could possibly prompt Germany to officially declare them verboten? Let’s get to the bottom of the mystery.

Photo: Mike Mozart, Wikimedia Commons

Yummy but Cancerous

There are two reasons why Germany has banned Cheetos. The first is the fact that the classic American version contains high levels of acrylamide.

Acrylamide is an organic compound that’s generated during certain cooking processes. The levels of acrylamide in classic Cheetos are fine by American laws, but in the EU, they’re a no-go.

Why? Well, acrylamide is quite likely to cause cancer.

It’s not completely clear whether acrylamide is carcinogenic when eaten. However, governments in both the U.S. and Europe don’t want to take the risk.

As a result, both have enacted regulations on how much acrylamide can be in foods. Europe’s regulations are just stricter.

But there’s a way around this. Many brands of snacks are produced locally in Europe through slightly different methods, allowing them to comply with EU regulations.

This would be an option for Cheetos too. The cheesy snacks are already produced in Poland and Spain, for example.

Never Say ‘Cheeto’

But if they’re being made locally, why can’t Germans still enjoy licking Cheeto dust off their fingers? And again, what’s with the stickers?

That reason lies in German copyright laws and a little company called Intersnack. We say “little company,” but this conglomerate dominates the German snack foods market.

Incidentally, Intersnack produces something called Chitos. According to them, the name “Cheetos” is much too close to their trademark — and German judges seem to agree.

Any shop owner who dares sell Cheetos can expect a lawsuit from Intersnack. And the company’s lawyers have a fantastic track record in getting the snacks pulled off the shelves.

Luckily for shop owners, there’s a loophole — the stickers. If you cover the Cheetos name and the famous mascot, you can claim that the product isn’t Cheetos.

You can find many creative alternative names glued onto the bags. Some examples include Cornchos, Kääsos (basically German for Cheetos), and Flippies.

But the stickers aren’t a bulletproof solution. For example, earlier this year a shop owner got fined more than $2,700 because the stickers could be peeled off.

According to Intersnack, that could lead to “brand confusion” with Chitos.

The Competitor That Wasn’t

This might sound like a boring case of trademark lawsuits to you. But wait, this is where it gets weird.

Chitos don’t exist.

At least not in any physical capacity. This Intersnack website shows a bag of Chito-branded Chios (a product that does exist) but good luck trying to find them in the stores.

There simply isn’t such a thing as a Chito. Intersnack’s trademark registration for Chitos even classifies them as anything ranging from “extruded potato, wheat, rice and/or corn products for snack purposes” to cookies, gingerbread, candies, or toffee.

What we’re taking from this is that even Intersnack themselves don’t know what a Chito is. But they do know that they own the name and Cheetos comes too close to it.

Intersnack does constantly promise to organize “national campaigns” with Chitos. But according to German shop owners, these basically amount to making a few bags of the product, selling them within an hour, and calling it quits for a couple more years.

Black Market Cheetos

So, there you have it — the German Cheeto ban. But despite the illegality, Cheetos are in high demand in the country.

Part of the reason is the half a million Americans living in Germany who want a small taste of their home. But even Germans themselves have a taste for Cheetos.

It’s not difficult to see why. The German snack food market is overwhelmingly dominated by two flavors — plain and paprika.

Plain and utilitarian. How very German. Or so you’d think, but it seems Cheetos are in high demand, perhaps because the local options are so limited.

As a result, there’s a veritable smuggling industry around Cheetos in Germany. Whenever shop or restaurant owners visit the U.S., they’ll return with a couple of suitcases full of Cheetos.

And then they break out the stickers.