From the editor

The 95-decibel bag of chips

September 2, 2010
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The sound of change is, apparently, too LOUD for some people. That’s the feedback Frito Lay’s Sun Chips received from consumers irritated by the loud crackling sound the corn-based bag makes.

[UPDATE: Sun Chips is pulling the compostable packaging from five of its six chip flavors, returning those flavors to their former packaging while it works on version 2.0. We applaud the commitment to compostable packaging and still plan to include the Sun Chips bag in our 2010 design annual, publishing in December 2010. Chin up, Frito Lay.]

The sound of change is, apparently, too LOUD for some people. That’s the feedback Frito Lay’s Sun Chips is getting from consumers who are irritated by the loud crackling sound the corn-based bag makes.

An industry first, Sun Chips packaging is made from 100 percent PLA and is said to fully decompose in about 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost bin.

The bag, though, makes a distinct-some say annoying-crackling sound when it’s opened. Nearly 40,000 people have joined the Facebook page, Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over The Sun Chips Bag. One consumer, an Air Force pilot, tested the “loudness” of the bag using a RadioShack sound meter. He recorded a 95-decibel level, which is comparable to a subway train.

The story has taken on a life of its own and is all over the blogosphere, leading one competitor-Boulder Canyon Natural Foods-to speak up about the “quieter” attributes of its own compostable bag. Rather than corn, Boulder Canyon’s bag is made from a wood-pulp-based material that the company says “sounds” like a conventional bag of chips.

While much of the consumer commentary about Sun Chips has been light-hearted, the situation is something the brand has to consider. The WSJ reports that Sun Chips sales have been in decline, posting year-on-year decreases each month since February (the chips launched in January).

A Frito-Lay spokesperson told the WSJ there are a “lot of potential factors that are playing a role,” and that the company is considering them all, including the possibility that packaging could be one of those factors.

It’s a shame. Frito Lay has invested a lot in developing the compostable bag-the company says it spent years testing different solutions. Which is why the company is also rolling out efforts to win over the skeptics, including in-store signage that reads, “Yes, this bag is loud, that’s what change sounds like.”

Of course the potential of “sound” as a branding element is an interesting concept (the reassuring click of a closure to indicate a tight seal, for instance). But, somehow, I don’t think this is what Sun Chips had in mind. BP

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