Thursday, October 7, 2010

Frito-Lay and SunChips Back Away From Environmentally Sound Packaging

Thirty-two Weeks. That's about how long the compostable SunChips bag managed to last before Frito-Lay decided it would rather back away from tiny steps to protect the environment than listen to a few people complain that the bag is "too loud." Yes, because the compostable bag is loud (it is), people complained and Frito-Lay said, "Screw the environment. Late night secret snackers must be protected from this insidiously loud menace!"

Frito-Lay will continue to offer the Original Flavor SunChips in the new bag, but it is discontinuing the use of the bag in all other flavors. Apparently those whiny secret snackers only eat the more exciting flavors like Harvest Cheddar and Garden Vegetable.

I'm not pretending the new bag was going to save the environment. It wasn't. How many of those bags were actually getting composted anyway? (I can only vouch for three.) But it was a step in the right direction for a company that generally does more harm than good in the world of nutritionally sound snacking (I'm not picking on Frito-Lay, almost all such companies are equally guilty--but Frito-Lay is easily one of the largest and has a huge environmental footprint). Unless companies can take a stand and stick with such products we're not going to make much progress in the world of responsible packaging.

Certainly Frito-Lay realized the bags were loud. They most certainly spent tens of thousands of dollars on the marketing aspect alone, which had to have included consumer reactions prior to a full release. "It's really loud" could not have been a surprise reaction. If it was, then they didn't do their homework.

The company plans to do further research to find a quieter alternative. I suspect doing so will involve chemical additives that might not belong in a food container. But that's never stopped food and beverage companies in the past and it certainly won't again unless we force Government regulations upon them. In our current political climate that is unlikely.

In an ideal world we will see a quiet bag that is more readily compostable. Company estimates of 12-16 weeks for composting require ideal composting conditions. Most back yard composters don't quite live up to those standards of green and brown balance, temperature control, etc. We compost the materials we have and make the best of it. Where did I get my thirty-two week figure from at the beginning of this post? That's how long my bag has been in my composter and I bought a bag as soon as they hit my local store. Are my bags fully composted? No. They are still easily identifiable as SunChips bags and still have a degree of integrity to them. Like I said, ideal conditions.

I hope Frito-Lay reconsiders this decision and continues to move in the direction of environmentally sound packaging. It's unfortunate that this initial step ended in what I am sure will be dubbed a marketing failure. Maybe they should come up with some adds that feature the loud bag--perhaps with some new "loud" flavors. I'm not going to hold my breath, though. Frito-Lay and almost any food and beverage company of such magnitude have one thing in mind--profits. The environment and your health are probably not even second on the list of priorities. Heaven forbid a few crazies say they're going to boycott SunChips because the bag is too loud. That might mean a decrease in profits by .001 percent!

How about this one? I hereby refuse to buy SunChips because the "original" bag they are returning to ISN'T LOUD ENOUGH!