Breaking Down The Sun Chips Bag Story

November 08, 2010  |  Jeff Beer  |  Comments

When is a chip bag too loud?

Frito-Lay found out the answer earlier this month when it announced it would discontinue its line of biodegradable chip bags for fi ve of its Sun Chips brand’s six fl avours. Introduced in 2009, the bags boasted the ability to be fully composted in 14 weeks. It took just over a year for the bags to be pulled due to consumer complaint.

A few e-mails might have had an impact, but probably not as much as the 11% decline in U.S. sales in the past year as reported in USA Today. It brings up an interesting question: For all the talk of more corporate environmental do-goodery, if consumers aren’t willing to take a little noise with their chips, why should marketers make the effort?

It’s a fi ne balance between making product changes to help the environment and changing the product so much it scares off the consumer. As superfi cial as it may seem, it’s no surprise that a noisy bag might scare off new Sun Chips fans . But that drop in sales must have come as a shock.

While tongue-in-cheek Facebook pages like “SORRY I CANT HEAR YOU OVER MY SUNCHIPS BAG” and tweets from Stephen Colbert (“The loud Sun Chips bag is dead! Long live the original Sun Chips bag! Which it will, since it’s not biodegradable!”) are funny, some lament what Frito-Lay’s decision says about consumer culture.

As Mother Jones’ writer Kate Sheppard said, “In the grand scheme of things, this is the absolute, bare-minimum level of sacrifi ce Americans are asked to make… If the sound of a crinkly eco-chip bag is too much to handle, then the human species really is screwed.”

It was also a pretty safe level of sacrifi ce for a major marketer. Biodegradable bags tie in perfectly with the Sun Chips brand, which was the best place for Frito-Lay to start experimenting with enviro-conscious packaging. I’m not saying they’re biodegradable dilettantes, but any serious discussion about environmentally friendly packaging should include the question, “What about the company’s other 20-odd bagged snack brands?”

In addition to fi nding a bag that can’t drown out the sound of a low-fl ying jumbo jet, hopefully the long-term goal is to establish an industry standard for all snack bags to be biodegradable, making it the rule rather than the exception. Then chipeaters unable to make the mental leap to pour chips into a bowl wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.

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