Snack attack: consumers show no love for eco-friendly bags

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Unless you’ve been somewhere very quiet recently, you’ve likely heard the news about Frito Lay’s new SunChips bags being “too noisy” for consumer standards. The story hit just about every news outlet, including the Wall Street Journal, when Frito Lay announced that they would take steps to appease the critics.

In the marketing world, it’s generally easy for us to look at products and understand why some sell and others do not. Accessibility, cost, customer experience, quality of the brand are all terms that are tossed around the office on a daily basis. But a chip bag being too noisy…that’s a problem which had not crossed my mind, but apparently it did cross Frito Lay’s.

There’s even a label on the packaging, noting that the bag is a “little noisy” due to its compostable make-up. Some have poked fun at the noise, calling the bag a “chip alarm,” preventing a quiet sneaking of a chip or two during late night snacking.

I thought the new bag was a great idea: create a new eco-friendly packaging that would make consumers feel better about their purchases, while maintaining a high level product on the inside. Seems genius, especially for a brand like SunChips, which has always marketed itself as a healthy, eco-conscious brand. In the ever competitive world of chips and snacks, we know all too well that packaging can make a buyers choice—at least, appearance wise. “New,” “improved,” and “all-natural” are terms that get our wallets open in a heartbeat.

Be that as it may, it appears the SunChips customer’s experience has been tainted by the noise of the bag. Maybe it was interfering with TV watching, or having conversations. “What? Sorry I can’t hear you over this SunChips bag” was one of the groups that popped up on Facebook, clearly annoyed by the loud bag. But as another user on Facebook pointed out, companies can’t please everyone—after all, that’s the basis of market competition. To this point, there’s even been a wide variety of counter-Facebook groups started, including an appropriately titled “I ♥ my SunChips bag: For those of us who do not mind a little noise, it’s nice to know that the bags will not be sitting in a landfill for the next 100 years.”

Still, Frito Lay has said consumers can expect all but one variety of SunChips to return to their pre-compostable packaging by the end of October. With a mere 159 members of the “I can’t hear you” group, is the brand overreacting? Should brands always give in to the loudest of the consumer bunch? Or is it better for them to stay true to their convictions?

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3 Responses to “Snack attack: consumers show no love for eco-friendly bags”

  1. Raquel Says:

    This reminds me of the whole Tropicana packaging/brand change a few years ago, and the most recent Gap logo debacle. Personally, I don’t want to know how many millions were wasted on trying to innovate these brands, since they just went back to their originals. I think its great that companies take stock in what their consumers are saying. But, if companies keep going back to their roots (so to speak), will brands ever change? Do they need to?

    • Brian Keaney Says:

      There are units of time (Plank time), space (Plank length), and temperature (absolute zero) where it is impossible to get any shorter, closer, or colder. On the Freakonomics blog today Dubner talks about The Perfection Point, a new book examining whether there are athletic achievements that “that humans can get closer and closer to but never exceed.”

      I think the same is true of some brands. At some point you reach a point where you just can’t do any better. Even if you could, say, from an artistic standpoint, would it be worth upsetting the customers who have come to know and love your existing brand? And, if it was would upset them that much, would it really be an improvement? I think the example of the Gap, new Coke, and countless others show us that it wouldn’t.

  2. Jamie Giller Says:

    Raquel, that’s a great point. I think companies try really hard to build brands that will stand the test of time—Gap, McDonald’s, Coke, are all great examples. But they face challenges with consumers that force them to come up with new products. Yes, Coke is a staple—but if the customer didn’t demand Coke Zero, it wouldn’t be here. If they didn’t like it, it wouldn’t still be around.

    Logos, specifically, are a different creature. People become accustomed to seeing an image and relating it to a brand. Dunkin Donuts is often criticized for their 70’s colors and script, which many have said they need to update. Yet , they don’t, perhaps because of the cross-generational loyalty the brand enjoys (see Brian’s comment above). Target’s changed its logo a few times. Yes, the red bulls-eye remains throughout, but even that went through a creative strainer of sorts. And I can’t personally recall there being such outcry as Gap has endured this last week alone.

    I think it comes down to social media being a platform for people who want to voice their opinions. Social media has given the “little guy” a proverbial soapbox with a direct line into the company’s marketing offices. Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s an expert. And companies are all ears. What brands are most afraid of, IMHO, is upsetting the little guy, who will tell all of his friends why no one should buy X product anymore. I think it comes down to the vast majority of people not liking change—and the fact that most brands aren’t willing to risk sales and “bad PR” to see if a new logo, chip bag or packaging design is something the customer will eventually grow to love as much as the old one.

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