Eighteen months ago, Frito-Lay launched advertising and PR campaigns proudly touting their new compostable SunChips bags, and even wrote in big bold letters on their packaging, “World’s First 100% Compostable Chip Package.” At every turn, consumers were reminded that the package was 100% compostable. But just last week, Frito-Lay announced that due to consumer complaints about the noise of the packaging, they would revert to the original packaging for five out of the six SunChips flavors.
My first reaction was to roll-my-eyes, sigh, and think, “Spineless SunChips, how can you let a few grumpy consumers force your hand? Who cares if they’re upset about the noise of the bag, they’ll get used to it. People don’t like change, but they’ll come around…”
Then I did more research, reading consumer opinions from what I’ll call the environmental left, right and center…
• From the left: “Because some people can’t deal with a little noise, they’re going back to polluting the planet that much more. Selfish.”
• From the right: “Who consumer tested these bags? Im guessing 70-80% of people eat chips while watching TV. How are you supposed to do that when you can’t hear the TV? I bought a bag every week until they changed the bag, then my wife made me stop buying them because she couldn’t hear the TV.”
• From the center: “I told ’em the very first time I got them (before the official release) that I wouldn’t buy a single bag like this ever again. And I haven’t; my husband misses them but oh well. It’s not worth it. I’m pro-environment, and my family of 4 (including infant but not counting the pets) throws away less than 2 bags of trash a week; everything else is recycled, composted, reused, or just not used in the first place. But the SunChips bag was SO noisy it woke up my son. In another room. Down the hall and around a corner. NOT acceptable.”
And the facts…
• There is an active Facebook group with more than 44,000 friends named “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips bag”.
• SunChips sales have declined more than 11% over the past 52 weeks.
• Frito-Lay moved one-third of its 32 plants to “zero landfill” last year—the rest will achieve that goal by the end of 2011 (all plants, not just SunChips).
• These “zero landfill” plants use innovative practices such as solar energy, water recovery, food-scrap recycling, and stack heat recovery.
• Over the past five years, Frito-Lay has eliminated 150 square miles of packaging by reducing the materials by 10%.
And now, I think of Frito-Lay as an innovative pioneer in sustainability. An 11% sales decline is a big deal – it’s not just a few grumpy people complaining– and Frito Lay is not abandoning their effort altogether. As Frito-Lay spokesperson Aurora Gonzalez said, “We are on a journey with compostable packaging… Frito-Lay is showing its commitment by sticking with the noisy but compostable packaging for the sixth flavor, its top-selling Original… We are applying what we have learned from this first generation to get to the next generation of environmentally-friendly packaging.”
And while they haven’t marketed it as much as their compostable packaging, the fact that Frito-Lay is investing capital into green technology to change their production plants to “zero landfill” shows their dedication to sustainability. What are other mass CPG companies doing? A lot of companies talk about being “green” and wish for “innovation” but are not willing to make the effort. They’re all talk and no action. Not Frito Lay.
Innovation, progress, never comes without pain, and those who are first to market will inevitably experience some bumps in the road, only to pave the way for future followers. We (Americans) will eventually have to change how much waste we create – it might not be in the next 10 years, or even in our lifetime, but we’re living longer and there is only so much land for landfills. I applaud Frito-Lay for thinking long-term, for taking the initiative and risk to lead positive change. Innovation, after all, is about living in beta. As Henry Ford said, “”Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.”