Food Industry

SunChips 100 Percent Compostable Bag: An Experiment

A little over a year ago, Frito Lay went green, announcing it would package SunChips in 100 percent compostable bags. But there was a problem. When kids ate -- in class, at libraries and in other assorted public places -- the sound from hands entering the eco-friendly bags reportedly reached an uncomfortably loud decibel level of 95, according to the Wall Street Journal. That's louder than some small dogs bark and weed whackers whack. As a result, sales for the multi-grain snack dropped 11 percent.

So Frito-Lay announced last week that, by the end of October, five of the six SunChips flavors will be sold in more traditional, environmentally damaging plastic bags. Only "original" flavored chips will be available in the compostable bags.

"We need to listen to our consumer," says Frito-Lay spokeswoman Aura Gonzalez. "We clearly hear their feedback."

This all inspired Short Order to gather three hefty dudes, stock up on Harvest Cheddar SunChips, and plant ourselves in crowded places. Then we'd eat. Our mission: to get kicked out for being loud.

Ritz Carlton; 1 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach:
To avoid astronomically high hotel parking fees at this ungodly expensive oceanfront inn, we opted for a metered spot about six blocks away. We packed a reusable Publix bag with the SunChips and threw towels over our shoulders to look like we'd been at the beach.

We walked past the bellman and into the elegant lobby, sat down and opened the bag of chips. It took nine minutes for the stout trio to eat every last multi-grain crumb. Not once were we asked to quiet down. Conclusion: Rich people don't care.

Bank of America; 1 SE Third Ave., Miami:
Disguised as people with money, we walked through the bank's door carrying a briefcase containing only a biodegradable bag of multi-grain deliciousness. The lobby was packed, but relatively quiet. We signed the sign-up sheet for new accounts (using aliases, of course) and proceeded to take a seat.

We broke open the SunChips and started munching, even sharing our snack with an elderly lady who sat across from us and briefly discussed interest-bearing checking accounts.

All was well and good until a baby started crying. The child's mother shot us a dirty look from her spot in the teller line, but we were about three-quarters deep into the experiment, so we're not blaming the bag, just bad parenting. Conclusion: Normal people don't care. Maybe babies, though.

Paragon Theater; 3015 Grand Ave, Coconut Grove:
We quietly snuck a bag of SunChips into a matinee showing of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps via a backpack. Inside, a small group of tween movie-goers ruined the previews by talking through them. But once the film started, they settled down.

A half hour into the movie, stomachs began growling. Rather than spend money at the snack bar, we reached into the backpack and tore open the last bag of Harvest Cheddar SunChips. Immediately, we heard a "SHHHH!" from the couple seated a few rows behind us, then, "Quiet!" when we reached into the bag for the first few chips.

"Hey, what the hell?" asked one of the tweens in a whisper/yell, "we're trying to watch this."

The crinkling noise seemed louder each time we reached for more chips. Barely half-way through the experiment, a woman stood up, released a loud sigh of disappointment and walked out.

Moments later, she returned with a theater employee by her side, pointed us out, and returned to her seat.

"Sorry guys, but we're going to have to ask you to leave," said the employee.

"Really?" I asked. "What for?"

Shining a flashlight onto our bag of SunChips, he replied, "You're not allowed to bring outside food into the theater." Conclusion: Frito-Lay made a commendable, socially conscious decision to go green 18-months ago. Now they're giving in to a few cranky tweens and a schoolmarmish mom.

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Victor Gonzalez
Contact: Victor Gonzalez