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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Sun Chips Bag

Bill less
October 8, 2010
Hi Pauline, As you know, Im working at Frito Lay as a design manager and I am so disappointed that the compostable bag is going away. I cant believe that consumers would reject the product because the noisy-ness of the bag - especially considering what the bag does and represents. Isnt the planet more important than a noisy bag? Im surprised more people didnt eat ONLY Sun Chips since it was the leader in a cause we all should follow. This will probably set environmentally concerned packaging back as big CPG's will fear transitioning. Anyway, Im encouraged that Frito still wants to persue another compostable bag even if consumers say that a noisy bag is more important. Hope all is well! Bill

Agreed!

Pauline
October 8, 2010
Hi Bill, we were disappointed to hear the news too. Even with that announcement, though, we're still planning on featuring the packaging in our 2010 design annual. We feel it's important to applaud progress on this scale - and maybe even encourage some CPGs who may be a bit gunshy, given this recent development. We're keeping an eye out for version 2.0 Pauline

Bag lover

Pamela Long
October 22, 2010
Pretty much every study out there makes it clear that consumers are happy to support environmental initiatives, as long as it's convenient and not costly..in other words, all things being equal, they'll go green. I had great hopes for this bag - a really positive step in the packaging world that we should all learn from. Too bad the rest of the world wasn't ready for it.

Is it really just the sound?

Dennis Benoit
October 22, 2010
We noticed the new packaging in stores the past summer, and my friends outside of marketing and design were reacting positively to this initiative. Nobody noticed or commented on the acoustic properties, but as a package designer I didn't think the graphic messaging was very attractive, at least not the Canadian version with two languages on a huge swath of sombre green that for me offered little in the way of fun or of appetite appeal. Regardless it's regrettable that it's been pulled, looking forward to v.2.

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