Frito-Lay Seems To Have Learned A Lesson

Remember the brouhaha last fall over Sun Chips' noisy "compostable" bag? It prompted Frito-Lay to withdraw the special bags on all but its "Original" flavor (which it retained as a show of support for their green strategy). It's just come out with a quieter option. It's on-pack messaging tones down the composting message and, in doing so, demonstrates, however counter-intuitively it may appear, that it has actually learned some valuable lessons about how to do green marketing right.

A key issue with the compostable bag -- and a reason that snack eaters were not to be faulted for committing environmental hypocrisy -- is that, while admirable and eco-innovative, the compostability of the bags was not relevant to the average consumer. (Only about 30% of American adults claim to compost.) So, when faced with the decision to buy a noisy bag that interfered with their eating enjoyment (the reason to buy the chips in the first place), the snackers dropped the brand like a hot potato, causing sales to fall amidst a raft of mocking YouTube videos.

A Shift in Strategy
The new bags now turn up the dial about the natural ingredients of the chips themselves. The large shout-out for "the world's first compostable snack chip bag" that once dominated the front of the large (10.5-ounce) bags has now been replaced with a more subdued message, about one-tenth the size, transported to the upper right-hand corner, stating "100% Compostable: Made with Renewable Materials." The key message that is now front and center are the words and accompanying visual, "Made with All Natural Ingredients," "No MSG - No Preservatives," "No Artificial Flavors" and "Great Multi-Grain Taste."

On the back, the dramatic sequence of images that showed the bag degrading over the course of 14 weeks -- the subject of a popular you tube video last fall, has been replaced with a more guarded message about the potential degradability of the bags in appropriately hot (industrial-type) composting facilities -- thus tamping down the suggestion that the bags might easily degrade in one's own backyard.

This more subdued communication correctly takes away any hint of potential greenwash from the widely publicized video that the bags might degrade in open air. The shift in emphasis from "compostable" to "natural" represents good green marketing at its best: start with a legitimately greener product and package, and lead with the primary benefits (in this case, great taste and high quality ingredients) -- not with promises of "saving the planet."

I do need to raise a question, though.
Frito-Lay deserves kudos for sticking by its commitment to compostability, and recognizing that the secondary message about the renewable ingredients of the bag can add an important dimension to its overall story.

Why stop at linking the compostable material simply to the abstract sounding "renewable materials"? Is Sun Chips possibly missing an opportunity to be more explicit about the corn-based ingredients of the bag? "Corn," after all, better conjures up delightful images of sunny cornfields, while helping out Midwest farmers and reinforcing the now highlighted multi-grain taste message.

According to a representative of NatureWorks LLC, the company that makes the Ingeo-based bag material, although made of corn-based PLA (polylactic acid) today, plans are in place to make Ingeo out of such other plant-based sugars in the future. I suppose Frito-Lay's, in addition to keeping its options open for the future, wouldn't want people thinking they could actually eat the bags -- confusion that might propel the You Tubers into another Sun Chips feeding frenzy.

1 comment about "Frito-Lay Seems To Have Learned A Lesson ".
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  1. Brian Asner from Upshot, May 25, 2011 at 11:42 a.m.

    I wish the lesson they'd learned was that it's okay to have a little fun with green marketing. Even though Frito-Lay pulled the original bags in the US, in Canada, they poked fun at themselves by offering consumers free earplugs if they thought that this effort at responsible consumption was just a bit too noisy. (We covered the story in more detail in the "War on Whiners" section of our Trends Report, available here for free:

    I still believe that one way to overcome "green fatigue" is to communicate these same benefits in a more fun, lighthearted, emotionally-resonant manner.

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