Millionaire Med/Surg Nurse

Patients on the med/surg unit at Temple University Hospital have a new reason to press the call button: they want to taste her award-winning potato chips.

In October, Frito-Lay announced that staff nurse Meneko Spigner McBeth, BSN, RN, of Deptford, N.J., outclassed 14 million other entries in its annual “Do Us a Flavor” contest. Her wasabi ginger potato chip is now on grocery stores shelves throughout the country – and Spigner McBeth is $1 million richer!

Spigner McBeth’s chip triumphed over Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese, Wavy Mango Salsa and Cappuccino.

“In my mind, Cheddar Bacon Mac and Cheese seemed the most American and I thought it would win,” she reflected. “This country loves cheese and I never thought that many Americans would go for wasabi ginger.”

Japanese Influence

Frito-Lay ‘s chief marketing officer Ram Krishnan said the selection of the wasabi ginger chip proves the evolving international palate of most Americans.

Spigner McBeth didn’t cultivate her love of Asian cuisine at fancy sushi bars but from her Japanese grandmother. In fact, Spigner McBeth said she doesn’t even have a strong passion for cooking, although she prepares meals for her husband and three young daughters.

“I do love to try restaurants and have people cook for me,” she said.

Her grandmother frequently cooked with wasabi and Spigner McBeth discovered the wasabi ginger combination when she first started visiting Asian restaurants as a nursing student at Hampton University in Hampton, Va. And she’s always had an appetite for chips.

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IN THE CHIPS: Temple University med/surg nurse Meneko Spigner McBeth’s wasabi ginger potato chip recently won the $1 million Frito-Lay flavor contest. photo courtesy Meneko Spigner McBeth, BSN, RN

Winning Recipe

When Spigner McBeth learned of the “Do Us a Flavor” contest last year, it was already in the voting stage.

She vowed to participate at the next opportunity and followed through with few ideas, joking that she gained five pounds in the creative process.

The contest rolled around again in 2014 and Spigner McBeth, who has never made a potato chip in her life, suggested three ingredients: wasabi, ginger and soy sauce.

She chose the chip consistency that would work best, wrote a snippet about her grandmother’s inspiration and clicked send.

The entry was such a non-event for her that Spigner McBeth nearly missed being notified of her advancement to the final round.

“We entered on Facebook so when they contacted us about being a finalist, it was also through Facebook,” she laughed.

“I thought it was a hoax and someone was trying to get my personal information, even after I’d received about four emails. Frito-Lay found my mother’s home phone number but she wasn’t about to give out my information. I finally decided to respond.”

Voter Frenzy

Once the Frito-Lay executive convinced Spigner McBeth that she wasn’t a scammer the contest process moved at a rapid pace.

On some level, it was a blessing in disguise that Spigner McBeth didn’t know she was a finalist earlier as they were sworn to secrecy until right before the flavors were announced to the nation.

“The night before we appeared on Good Morning America, they said we could tell family. I also told a few of my co-workers,” she recalled.

The news spread like wildfire at Temple University Hospital and TVs in all the units tuned into the morning news show to see one of their own. Spigner McBeth said her manager couldn’t have been more accommodating when she needed to switch her days off to jet set to New York for the TV appearance or, later, when she had to attend mandatory training on marketing her product at Frito-Lay’s headquarters in Plano, Tex.

Staff rallied behind the contest. Spigner McBeth said break rooms always had bowls filled with her invention, asking staff to vote between wasabi ginger and its competitors. Some doctors didn’t even know about her role in the contest, but her chip usually was picked as the staff’s taste preference.

Now it was up to Spigner McBeth to convince the rest of the country to vote for wasabi ginger. At Frito-Lay’s orientation session, she learned how to conduct herself on television interviews, post reminders on social media and gleaned advice from previous contest winners on selling America on her flavor.

Interestingly enough, she said it was during the promotion and voting period of the “Do Us a Flavor” contest that Spigner McBeth felt her nursing skills provided an advantage. Although marketing a snack seems to be an entirely different skill set than treating wounds and infection, she found a parallel in her everyday life as a nurse.

“Every nurse is a great multi-tasker and it helped me with all the different tasks that were necessary to get people to vote for this chip, in addition to my daily life as a nurse and a mom,” she recalled. “Nurses also have to communicate with doctors and families and this skill served me well in talking to people in the grocery store and handing out business cards.”

Now that the contest is over, Spigner McBeth’s glad to return to her normal life, even if she’s now in a different income tax bracket. Spigner McBeth won’t be hanging up her scrubs anytime soon either. She’s determined to continue in nursing and save the money for her daughters’ college education and weddings.

She’ll probably have something shiny to treat herself to at the end of her shift and is currently looking at Mercedes and Audis. “I’ve been driving a minivan for a long time. I’m going to treat myself to a mommy car with two doors and no car seats,” she said.

Robin Hocevar is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact [email protected].

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