The Answer to the Super-Loud SunChips Bag?

Boulder Canyon Kettle Cooked chips, a quieter alternative to the high-decibel SunChips bag

Have you been following the furor over the super-loud SunChips bag?  I’ve written a number of posts about SunChips’ move from partially compostable to fully compostable packaging, but man, the sound of compostability is loud! The 100% compostable bag even made the national news a few weeks back due to a groundswell of complaints about its decibel level. It even has a Facebook fan page with 42,000+  followers called, “I’m Sorry, I Can’t Hear You Over This Sun Chips Bag.”

With all this chatter, I’d love to ask Frito Lay whether the groundswell has helped or hurt sales. Add up the YouTube video hits, the Facebook pages, the blog clicks, and the millions of eyeballs on the Today Show and it seems that the entire world now knows that SunChips’ bags are compostable. When they are in the store, those viewers are going to crunch a bag or two. Some might even read the label. Throw a bag into the cart (after all, it’s already in their hand). Who cares if the bags are loud? Who really buys or doesn’t buy snack chips based on the sound of the bag?

Granted, you don’t want to annoy your customers. So it will be interesting to watch whether Frito Lay stays with this corn starch based bag or whether, once it gets the full benefit of the free publicity the ear-splitting bag has generated, it will move to something quieter like that offered by Boulder Canyon products. Unlike the SunChips bag, which is made from corn starch, the bags used by Boulder Canyon are made from wood pulp. The pulp is sourced from managed wood fiber plantations and the bags are ASTM D6400 certified as compostable in all key biodegradation situations (industrial, home, wastewater).

If both bags are compostable, I’d have to say, quieter is better. It allows me to snack without alerting my behavior to my two children in the next room. (“Mommy, can I have a chip, too?” “MOMMY HAS CHIPS!!!!”) But I have to say, nobody is talking about Boulder Canyon’s quiet compostability.  The loudness of the SunChips bag is burning up the blogosphere and YouTube.

The answer to the question about volume (does anyone really care about the volume of the bag?) will only become clear once the furor dies down. Certainly, the rush of publicity has to be great for SunChips. But over time, the super-loud crunching has to be a negative on marketability. By contrast, according to Boulder Canyon, its wood-fiber-based bags feel and sound “like a traditional paper bag of chips should, so midnight snacking remains your secret only.”

But then, the loud crunching of SunChips’ bags reminds consumers with every ear-splitting crinkle that they are doing something good for the environment. They’re alerting their neighbors, as well. Call it good peer pressure.

I’ll bet SunChips is testing the crunchiness of both bags in focus groups right now.

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker

Heidi Tolliver-Walker has been a commercial and digital printing industry analyst, feature writer, columnist, editor, and author for nearly 20 years. She is known for her meticulous research and no-nonsense perspective. In addition to having written thousands of industry articles for top industry publications, she and Richard Romano have been the face of the well-respected industry research firm The Industry Measure (TrendWatch Graphic Arts) for many years. In her more than 13-year tenure with the firm, she has written countless reports on digital printing, 1:1 (personalized) printing, Web-to-print, personalized URLs, and other hot industry applications. She is also a long-time contributing editor and columnist for Printing News, for which she writes two monthly columns, including "Personal Effects," which features monthly analysis of 1:1 (personalized) printing case studies. She is also the author of three titles for the National Association of Printing Leadership: Designer's Printing Companion, Ink & Color: A Printer's Guide, and Diversifying Via Value-Added Services. As a small, niche publisher (Strong Tower Publishing), she is active in utilizing these technologies in her own business, as well.


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