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Daniel Ruth

Frito-Lay crusade hits the scrap heap

In the annals of "What the @!%$#*& were you thinking?" this probably ranks right up there with New Coke, the DeLorean and County Commissioner Jim Norman assuming a $500,000 gift from a political benefactor to his wife to buy a swanky manse would go unnoticed. • I don't know about you, but there's something about having one's food talking back to you, that is well, creepy.

When the packaging for a seemingly harmless treat sounds like what the edible is probably doing to your intestinal tract, this can't possibly be a good thing — or good business.

Yet the geniuses at Frito-Lay somehow arrived at the brilliant notion that packaging a snack food in a container that sounded like fingernails on a blackboard was somehow a really whiz-bang marketing concept.

The idea was perhaps altruistic enough.

In an effort to show how much Frito-Lay loves the environment, adores the environment, believes the environment is the greatest thing since sliced, white Wonder Bread, the company decided to offer its Sun Chips brand of snacks in a bag made of 100 percent compostable material.

But there was a problem. Handling the bag to simply get to a few chips sounded like New Year's Eve meets the Fourth of July. When you are trying to sneak a late-night snack in the pantry, do you really want to advertise the fact you have all the dietary willpower of Rosie O'Donnell?

The idea here was that after stuffing themselves full of Sun Chips, perhaps washed down with a couple of beers, socially responsible consumers would then take the bag out in the backyard and use it as part of their compost pile. That's a lovely notion if one assumes Americans from sea to shining sea are environmentally conscious on a scale that makes Greenpeace look like British Petroleum.

It's merely a guess, but unless Prince Charles is reading this, how many people who purchased an ear-shattering bag of Sun Chips gave one whit of thought to planting the empty container in their yards?

In the end, though, the ecological wonders of the Smart Chips bag notwithstanding, can we at least enjoy a guilty pleasure of gorging on a cracker without having to worry about global warming?

Irony abounds.

While Frito-Lay was attempting to come off as the Jacques Cousteau of junk food, this is also the same company that produces Fritos, Lays Potato Chips, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Cracker Jack (say, there's some health food for you), Munchies Snack Mix and numerous dips to assist in all this nutrition. I'm especially fond of the Tostitos salsa.

Really now, wouldn't this be a bit like McDonald's presenting you with your double Big Mac, fries and milkshake in compostable containers because they care oh so much about preserving our precious environment?

To be sure, there's something of a movement toward so-called "green" products and packaging.

Cascade recently reduced phosphates in their dishwasher soap, and the end result has been glassware covered with a smoky film that makes you think you have the onset of glaucoma. So now what? The still dirty glass has to be rewashed using more soup and more water. How is this conserving anything?

Amid a cacophony of protest — but not as loud as the compostable bag itself — Frito-Lay announced this week that perhaps the new packaging was maybe a dumber idea than the producer Howard Hughes who thought casting John Wayne as Genghis Khan in the The Conqueror was a stroke of inspiration.

For in the end, who wants to be irritated by their food — at least before they eat it?

It also likely didn't help that the public had rejected the new packaging as Sun Chip sales plummeted, suggesting consumers simply aren't interested in buying a product that reminds them of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.

While the packaging is re-engineered, the company does plan to keep the glass-shattering bag for its original flavor Sun Chip, which should enjoy many, pleasant, blissful, uninterrupted, lonely hours on the grocery shelf.

In the end, maybe the whole Frito-Lay Sun Chip marketing kerfuffle suggests that while many of us show our concern about the environment by recycling or buying hybrid cars or installing more efficient light bulbs, that sometimes we also just want to enjoy some mindless comfort food without having a pinched, tut-tutting Al Gore looking over our shoulder.

This column has made me hungry. I could really go for a nice box of Cracker Jack packed away in that wax paper with the stupid plastic toy, courtesy of Frito-Lay — those crusaders of the environment.

Frito-Lay crusade hits the scrap heap 10/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 7, 2010 5:22pm]
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