Cup Noodles instant ramen adds s’mores flavor—a bid to prove it’s ‘not just a boring thing you’d buy because you’re on a budget’

You can ditch the bonfire and tedious rotating of a marshmallow-stacked stick across an open flame this summer. Instead, you can make s’mores with just boiling water or a microwave. 

Don’t knock it until you try it, instant ramen brand Cup Noodles says. It launched its s’mores-flavored noodles on Monday, the latest in a slate of bizarrely flavored products to boost consumer intrigue and prove it can defy its cheap-eats reputation.

Parent company Nissin will sell the product for a limited time exclusively at Walmart for $1.18. The microwavable noodles contain a chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker-flavored sauce imbued with “a smokey note.” 

Campfire S’mores further diversifies Cup Noodle’s offerings beyond its chicken- and seafood-infused flavors. Nissin has launched Everything Bagel with Cream Cheese noodles and Breakfast ramen with a sweet-savory broth with notes of maple syrup, pancakes, sausage, and eggs. It’s part of the company’s playbook to be more than just a dinner or late-night snack beloved by cash-strapped and hungover college students.

“Ramen is eaten at all parts of the day during all times,” Nissin Foods USA senior vice president of marketing Priscila Stanton told CNN. “We believe that ramen can play in all of these different areas, and sweet is definitely one of those areas that we’ve had some success in.”

Instant ramen is the poster child of affordable foods that have grown in popularity amid high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis making consumers more sensitive to grocery prices. Helped particularly in the U.S., Nissin has taken advantage of consumers’ search for affordability to the tune of a 14.5% revenue boost in 2024’s first quarter from a year before.

Ramen around the clock

The unconventional combinations may stand out on shelves, but they’re also in good company with a growing number of brands trying to cash in on Gen Z’s love of bizarre flavors. Ice cream purveyor Van Leeuwen’s launched a Kraft mac and cheese-flavored dessert in 2021, followed by pizza- and Hidden Valley Ranch-flavored offerings a year later. Combined with Sour Patch Kid Oreos as well as spicy and salty Coca-Cola, the products create a meal perfect for agents of chaos—tummy aches be damned.

It’s no joke, argued Kyle Shadix, corporate executive research chef for PepsiCo, who helped create maple and strawberry shortcake Pepsi available in Japan. Tinkering with Mexican, Korean, and Japanese flavors, he keeps the next generation of consumers in mind when designing new products.

“They’re every chef’s dream to design for,” Shadix told Fortune in May. “Gen Z is going to drive us faster. We’re going to start to see even more exploration quicker than in the past because they’re just so open to it.”

While the flavors may be bizarre, the strategy of elevating them to drive sales is tried and true.

“Everyone is trying to figure out, how do you increase consumption? Trying to get people to eat their products at a different time of day, or a different usage occasion, or a different type of event,” Braden Douglas, founder and CEO of marketing agency Crew Marketing Partners, told Fortune.

He believes this tactic is what has driven the put-an-egg-on-it mentality for easy dinners or the steak-and-egg and chicken-and-waffle brunch craze that extends proteins beyond dinnertime.

Expanding usage occasions is why WK Kellogg CEO Gary Pilnick encouraged consumers to eat “cereal for dinner” or why PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta said savory snack fans should try eating Doritos and Rold Gold Pretzels as “side dishes and ingredients” for meals.

“It’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to grow, sales and volume of your products,” Douglas said.

The strategy also helps Nissin break out of its reputation of being just a cheap snack or last-ditch dinner effort, according to GlobalData retail analyst Neil Saunders. Despite Campfire S’mores being billed as available for a limited time, he’s convinced it will stick around, as will the trend of unconventional flavors.

“It’s positioned as being something that’s quite interesting and novel, not just a boring thing you’d buy because you’re on a budget,” he told CNN.

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