Sunday, October 10, 2010

Too noisy to save the environment? Frito-Lay responds to SunChips compostable bag debacle

These days, many companies--and especially food companies--are falling over each other to prove their green cred to consumers. But given the usual challenges of trying to save the planet while you're destroying it, most efforts amount to a whole lot of greenwashing.

So when Frito-Lay announced last week that its SunChips compostable bag was a bust due to complaints that the bag was too noisy, the company found itself on the receiving end of some well-deserved, internet-fueled snark. One of the snarkiest came from's Sustainable Food Editor Sarah Parsons, who writes:
The switcheroo came after Americans complained about the bags' noise level—the little sacks apparently cause quite the ruckus as folks stick their paws in and out to grab fistfuls of chips. In the past year alone, SunChips sales decreased by more than 11 percent, mostly due to the boisterous bags. A Facebook group called "Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChips Bag" boasts more than 44,500 fans. Apparently a SunChips bag that drowns out the sound of one's own chip-crunching was very disconcerting for a populace that's come to expect a more subtle rustling from its potato chip sacks.
Next, started a petition to ask Frito-Lay to reconsider its decision; after all, the planet will ultimately suffer more than consumers' ear drums. No worries, Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo that makes truckloads of salty snacks) is on the job. Here, reprinted in its entirely, is the email response I received from Director Consumer Relations Cathy Dial after I signed the petition:
Hi Michele,

Thanks for your email about the SunChips compostable package. Marc forwarded your email to me for follow up with you. Frito-Lay is taking steps to improve the SunChips 100% compostable packaging launched in early 2010. The new steps help address consumers' feedback about the bag's noise level, while continuing to build on the environmental benefits.

While Frito-Lay works to develop a next-generation compostable package, SunChips Original snacks will remain in the current 100% compostable package, while the other SunChips flavors have transitioned back to their traditional packaging. Once the improved compostable bag is ready, it will be featured in the SunChips Original flavor.

As with many leading-edge technologies, there is an ongoing process of improvement and refinement. We are confident the approach we are taking will allow us to continue our sustainability progress, while also showing our consumers that we are committed to responding to their needs and preferences.

Frito-Lay has a long track record of progress and leadership in environmental responsibility, and the compostable bag is an important step in our sustainable packaging journey. Thank you again for your feedback.
I had no idea it was even possible to be on a "sustainable packaging journey," but it sure sounds precarious. Well, I had a few more questions for Cathy, so I asked her to clarify, and here are those questions, with her answers below each, in italics:
Thanks, Cathy,

I am a little confused. Perhaps you can clarify:

1) Why keep just one flavor in the noisy bag if it's such a problem?

We are keeping the current 100% compostable packaging on one SunChips SKU because we are still very much committed to developing sustainable packaging, but are trying to address feedback from consumers at the same time. By keeping a SKU active with the compostable packaging, it also provides a path to quickly bring the next-generation bag to market, which we are aggressively developing.

2) Are you saying the new bag will be only for the Original flavor? Why wouldn't all of the flavors be offered in the new bag? 

When the next-generation bag is ready, we will initially make it available with Original flavor SunChips. We will then continue our evaluation process, collect feedback from consumers and other stakeholders and determine an appropriate strategy to potentially extend it.

3) Why just SunChips? Why isn't the company interested in protecting the environment for all of its products?

Frito-Lay’s R&D team is working on a wide range of potential sustainable packaging options beyond just the SunChips compostable bag, and we are looking at how other brands in our portfolio could bring them to life. SunChips was our starting point for bringing sustainable packaging to market and we are hoping to build on that with other product lines.
OK, I guess we will just have to follow Frito-Lay along its sustainable packaging journey. Let's hope it's a quiet path.


Anthro said...

This would be a real hoot if it weren't so pathetic in terms of actually doing something meaningful to improve the environment.

Sun Chips has to be their least recognized product, so they use it as a guinea pig apparently.

I have encountered a number of compostable products recently and none of them were "noisy". True, none of them held chips or had to keep something "fresh" for any length of time, but then, I eat real food from my compostable containers.

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At least they are making an effort. Most companies are doing nothing these days as world sinks.

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