Those biodegradable SunChips bags we wrote about in March take about 14 months to fully decompose. And apparently that’s about the shelf life for Frito-Lay’s green initiative as well.
Frito-Lay, one of our Most Innovative Companies and the taste experts behind Tangy Carolina BBQ potato chips, was heralded for becoming a sustainable purveyor of snacks last year after introducing a 100% compostable SunChips package. Now the company is quietly putting an end to the program. Why? It wasn’t worth the noise.
The bags were fully biodegradable (or were they?) and could have kick-started a trend in eco-friendly food retailing. But the molecular structure of the packaging made the bag incredibly noisy–louder than even a jet cockpit. Complaints poured in to Frito-Lay over the noise, according to USA Today. And a Facebook group called “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag” currently has more than 44,000 friends.
While many are willing to put up with minor annoyances for the sake of the environment (see: quality of early Seventh Generation products), it looks like Frito-Lay reached a breaking point. Over the past 52 weeks, sales of SunChips declined more than 11%.
Now, Frito-Lay has reverted back to its older, non-green packaging for most of the SunChips line (Original SunChips will keep the noisy bag). The company is currently working on developing a recyclable material that is, well, quieter.
I think Frito-Lay was being innovative here and I applaud them for their effort but I have a few questions and concerns.
How much testing was done internally or with a focus group? It’s not as if these bags were slightly noisier than regular bags, the noise level they created was noteworthy. Enough to generate 44,000 Facebook fans joining the group “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag.”
Often, with significant projects, it’s useful to have a pilot done in the actual business environment with a smaller sample. This is done in an actual marketplace to ensure everything is right with the service or product. How many small pilots were done at Frito-Lay? When you’re redesigning the chip bag to be biodegradable, one would think you would have a few stores or communities exposed to this product. Would someone notice that these eco-friendly bags were too noisy?
Many consumers might feel this idea is a good one but consumers will quickly realize that noisy chip bag will not fly.
Did chemists putting together a formula for the biodegradable bags wonder if the chemical composition would make them noisier?
Or did some employees notice but didn’t bother because they felt no one would listen to them in the first place?
Designing a biodegradable bag to decompose in 14 months could be a good marketing tool for Frito-Lay. It certainly could give them a competitive advantage over other chip manufacturers. Who knows, if they can successfully design this bag to fulfill all user requirements, other chipmakers could follow. Who knows, Frito-Lay could still eventually be among the leaders in designing eco-friendly bags for the mass market.
Just because this initiative was shelved doesn’t mean they should quit. I think they should go back to the drawing board to see if they can develop an eco-friendly chip bag that is transparent. Try to design it in such a way that users can’t tell it’s eco-friendly by touching or handling it – the only way users would know is if they’ve read about it or see the label on the package.