- THE MAGAZINE
- VERTICAL MARKETS
A couple of odd stories involving snack food crossed my e-mail recently.
The power of social media is making Frito-Lay flinch a little. Its much-touted compostable SunChips bag, made from polylactic acid (PLA), is meant to reduce roadside pollution, but now it’s getting unwelcome attention for alleged noise pollution.The PLA bag makes more noise when crinkled than an ordinary plastic chip bag, and it’s apparently too much for a lot of consumers. According to the Wall St. Journal, an Air Force pilot called it “louder than the cockpit of my jet” and taped himself on his blog gauging the bag with a sound meter at 95 decibels, compared with 77 for an ordinary plastic bag. Facebook has several dozen pages devoted to complaints about the SunChips bag, with titles like “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag” and “SunChips-You Hear Them Before You See Them.”
My brief sampling of comments on these pages shows that most agree with the premise, but not all. One commenter sarcastically offered her solution: a five-step program for dumping the chips in a bowl before they’re eaten, with Step 5 being: “Remind yourself that you're a prat and an idiot for complaining about something so stupid...”
Frito-Lay is responding gamely, posting signs on some store shelves that read, “Yes, the bag is loud, that's what change sounds like.” Frito makes for an unlikely object of sympathy: It dominates the salty-snack market to a degree seen in few if any other major food segments. But it did invest a lot in the highest-profile use of compostable film to date, and it has to be frustrating to see negative publicity snowball over such an ancillary issue.
The other snack-related story was about baby carrots. A bunch of producers, including category leader Bolton Farms, are trying to use various strategies, including packaging, to make carrots cool.
The effort, spearheaded by ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, includes putting carrots in bags specifically designed to mimic Doritos and other snack chips. The prototype bags developed by the agency bear the slogan: “Eat ‘Em Like Junk Food.”
This makes me think of a Gary Larson “Far Side” cartoon. It had what looked like an ice-cream truck trolling a suburban street, only it was decorated with asparagus stalks. The side of the truck bore the motto, “I cuss, you cuss, we all cuss for asparagus!” The cartoon’s caption: “Failed marketing ploys.”
A USA Today article on the campaign quoted, in its final paragraph, a distinctly unworried-sounding Frito-Lay spokesperson: “We're happy to serve as an inspiration. We know people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables.”
He can afford to be benign, since it’s hardly likely that carrots are going to be cutting into Doritos’ market share anytime soon. It may get grief over noisy SunChips bags, but in this case, Frito-Lay is the cat that ate the canary-colored chip.
--Pan Demetrakakes, editor