Frito-Lay sends its ‘green’ SunChips bag to the dump

USA TODAY The USA Today reports that Frito-Lay, manufacturer of SunChips, is replacing five of their six flavors of Sun Chips sold in compostable packaging with their traditional bag. Bruce Horovitz notes that consumers have been complaining about the loud sound of the bags, comparing them to jet engines even. Since sales have dropped 11% within the last 52 weeks, SunChips is examining a second phase of the compostable bag, while they quietly replace most flavors with the old bag. This data and decision represents the dichotomy of the American consumer that desires green products but ultimately wants convenience, comfort and familiarity as well.

Posted Oct. 4, 2010

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY


Frito-Lay is preparing to quietly sack its "green" but noisy SunChips bag.
Roughly 18 months after Frito-Lay, with great fanfare, launched a biodegradable SunChips bag made from plant material that was billed as 100% compostable, the company is yanking the noisy material from the packages of five of six SunChips flavors immediately.

The company is returning them to their former bags that can't be recycled — but won't wake the neighbors — while it works frantically to come up with a new, quieter eco-friendly bag.

The noise of the bag — due to an unusual molecular structure that makes the bag more rigid — has been compared to everything from lawnmowers to jet engines. There's even an active Facebook group with more than 44,000 friends that goes by the name of "Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChips Bag."

"Clearly, we'd received consumer feedback that it was noisy," says Aurora Gonzalez, a Frito-Lay spokeswoman. "We recognized from the beginning that the bag felt, looked and sounded different."

The bag illustrates the sometimes unexpected bumps that can trip up companies trying to do the right thing environmentally. SunChips sales have declined more than 11% over the past 52 weeks (excluding Wal-Mart, which doesn't share its data), reports SymphonyIRI Group, the market research specialist.

While consumers say they want companies to be more environmentally conscious, consumer pressure continues to be strong for companies' products to be convenient, predictable and consumer-friendly.

"Everybody seems to be on the bandwagon for environmentally friendly packaging," says JoAnn Hines, a packaging consultant who refers to herself as the Packaging Diva. "But the problem is that bags like this come out without researching all the consequences."

Consumers can be of two minds, too, she adds. While most mothers say they want "greener packaging," Hines says, mothers also are the biggest purchasers of single-serve chip bags.

Environmentalists hope Frito-Lay executives don't give up on a compostable SunChips bag.

"We need a system where composting becomes business as usual in the U.S.," says Gwen Ruta, head of corporate partnerships for the Environmental Defense Fund. "I hope SunChips can move us in that direction."

Frito-Lay says it's trying.

"We are on a journey with compostable packaging," says Gonzalez. Frito-Lay is showing its commitment by sticking with the noisy but compostable packaging for the sixth flavor, its top-selling Original, she says.

"We are applying what we have learned from this first generation to get to the next generation of environmentally friendly packaging," says Gonzalez.


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