When marketing goes too far; ‘One Chip Challenge’ removed from shelves after death of Boston teen

The viral spicy chip challenge has garnered millions of views on social media, but at what costs to consumers?

Packaging of Paqui's 'One Chip Challenge'

Coffin-shaped, neon-green packaging emblazoned with health warnings deters many from picking up Paqui’s One Chip Challenge, let alone eating it. But, for some teens across the country, videos of people consuming this extremely hot chip have a potential to go viral that can’t be ignored.

14-year-old Harris Wolobah

One Boston teen, 14-year-old Harris Wolobah, fell victim to the trend. Just two days after completing the One Chip Challenge, Wolobah passed away from an acute cerebellar stroke. While Paqui’s chip has yet to be directly linked to his death, it was one of the last things Wolobah ate before falling ill, passing out, and eventually dying in the hospital. His tragic death has prompted major backlash to the dangerous challenge. Paqui has since removed the product from store shelves.

Paqui’s One Chip is marketed as the “hottest chip in the world,” spiced with a combination of California Reaper Peppers and Naga Viper Peppers. These peppers have Scoville Units of 1.7 million and 1.4 million respectively, making them two of the hottest peppers available. While the packaging contains health warnings advising those sensitive to spice or allergic to peppers against the challenge, the chip is notorious for causing serious pain and discomfort to anyone who dares to try it. The label instructs consumers to wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything after consuming the chip.

Hot snacks, like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, are marketed directly to Black and Hispanic consumers. In the past few years, Frito-Lay has tapped rappers Megan Thee Stallion, and MiMs to star in Flamin’ Hot campaigns. Latin music superstar Bad Bunny also starred in his own campaign. One commercial features Chester – the brand’s beloved tiger mascot – dropping a “Flamin’ Hot diss track.” The brand, the most recognizable name in chips, has co-opted Black and Hispanic culture in order to sell their products.

Picture of Paqui's packaging and chip that are found in many stores around the country. (Photo source

Paqui, a subsidiary of The Hershey Company and a direct competitor of Frito-Lay, sells more than just the One Chip Challenge. Their website lists four other flavored tortilla chips that can be found in stores across the country. While Frito-Lay has gone the celebrity endorsement route, Paqui takes another approach to their marketing strategy. The One Chip Challenge is a novelty product containing one single chip that retails for about $10. Once you open the coffin packaging, the rules of the challenge state that consumers should “post your reaction on social media with #OneChipChallenge and mention @paquichips.” Including the hashtag and social media handle turns the product into a social media campaign, encouraging consumers to create content for the brand. With major Youtubers like FaZe Rug and Zach Choi racking up tens of millions of views on their own #OneChipChallenge videos, this viral marketing strategy has worked. But, at what cost?

Despite the warning labels stating that the One Chip Challenge is “intended for adult consumption,” there are no restrictions on who can purchase the chip. Nate Buescher, a 16-year-old high school student from Chicago, spoke about his personal experience with the challenge.

“I literally walked not even one minute from school and bought it at 7/11,” said Buescher.

He described the experience as “like bees stinging your tongue, lips numbs, stomach on fire… going to the bathroom is the worst.”

“We challenge each other at school with it…It was honestly terrible but it was also really funny,” said Buescher. The viral trend may be humorous for some, but has landed others in the hospital. For Wolobah, it was fatal.

From the thousands of videos labeled with #OneChipChallenge on Instagram, it seems like the product was designed to create viral moments of peoples’ pain and discomfort. Upon scrolling, there are videos of people crying, throwing up, and writhing in pain after eating the chip. Onlookers laugh hysterically. It’s a precarious mix of joy and pain. To a teenager looking for a “viral” moment, it could seem tempting. By issuing warnings to teens but also promoting the product through viral campaigns and allowing minors to purchase it without parental consent, it raises questions about Paqui’s true intentions regarding teen consumption.

In a statement posted to their website, Paqui states, “We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings. As a result, while the products continue to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working to remove the product from shelves.” Paqui was contacted for this story but has not responded.