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If SunChips Did Its Research, Why Did It Need to Pull Its 100% Compostable Bags?

Yesterday, I posted an interview I did with Steve Sklar, senior vice president of marketing for Boulder Canyon, which like SunChips offers a 100% compostable chip bag. Yet unlike SunChips, its bag is quiet — like paper.

As a marketer, I wondered about Sklar’s take on SunChips’ decision to pull its 100% compostable packaging after such a short shelf life. This had to be a huge investment for the company. One does not redesign a chip bag, do a nationwide launch, and support the launch with a significant marketing campaign without doing market testing, right? How could it have missed this?

At 95 decibels, the chip bags are loud.  If you’re sitting next to someone rifling for a chip, you’re not going to be able to hear what’s on television in front of you. That kind of inconvenience cannot have been missed in the market testing. You don’t miss something like that.

But if you thought the chip bag was loud, you should have heard the public outcry after the public launch. It was deafening. Bye-bye 100% compostable bags.

(See the Good Morning America clip — aired three days after The Inspired Economist broke the story.)

It makes me wonder how SunChips could have made such a miscalculation. Where did it do its market testing? In an open field? With not walls for sound to bounce off? In the food courts of malls where the sound would be drowned out by the cacophony of dining mall shoppers?

Perhaps the questions of the researchers were too leading. “Landfills are stinky and disgusting, and if we don’t do something about the volume of solid waste going into them, we’ll all be drowning in garbage soon. With that in mind, would you prefer our old, non-biodegradable bags headed for the landfill where they will sit for 1,000 years? Or our new, 100% compostable bags you can bury in your garden and they will disappear by spring?” Gee, what are you supposed to say to that?

Whatever happened, SunChips made a huge miscalculation. I just cannot help but wonder how they could have missed this one.  As a fellow 100% compostable chip bag marketer, I thought it would be fun to hear Steve Sklar’s take on it.

While Sklar was understandably unwilling to speak directly to the SunChips issue, he did make a general comment that I found very interesting.

“People tell you anything when it’s free. But are they willing to pay more for it? Are they willing to tolerate a difference from the original packaging? People not as open to change as they would want to believe they are. People will accept a certain amount of change. They won’t accept a big one.”

SunChips learned that lessons in spades, didn’t it?

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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