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FritoLay SunChips packaging debacle: A lesson in when not to listen to your customers?

on Oct 07 in branding, business, facebook, public relations, social media posted by

SunChips’ 100% compostable bag was withdrawn over protests it was too “noisy”SunChips is well-known and to some beloved brand produced by food giant FritoLay (a subsidiary of PepsiCo).

When the company introduced a new compostable package for the chips a few months ago, it was playing its part as a responsible corporate citizen. The idea was that users could compost the package. It would decompose and therefore be more environmentally friendly than traditional plastic packaging.

But a slip up in the market research department (I infer) resulted in flurry of protests from die-hard fans of the old FritoLay package. The problem, it seems, was the the new package was “noisier” than the old one.

But being “the world’s first 100 percent biodegradable chip packet” was not enough to stop close to 50,000 Facebook members (48,638 at the time of writing) “Liking” a Community page called “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG.” The page’s info states: “The new Sun Chips bags are so fucking loud.”

Several other groups were set up in protest of the noisy bags (numbers indicate each Page’s Likes at the time of writing):

On FritoLay’s own SunChips Fan page, 94 posts complained about the noise made by the new bags. 

Complaints included:

Flustered by the protests, FritoLay reversed course for most of their SunChips flavors. The SunChips Facebook Fan page stated it would retain compostable bags for the “original” SunChips brand. However, there was no mention of the widely reported decision to withdraw compostable bags for other flavors.

FritoLay has landed itself in big social media doo-doo.

After peeing off a lot of customers with a poor bag design, their confusing semi-reversal has set off a firestorm of protests.

Many SunChips fans evidently felt the new bags were at least headed in the right direction for helping the environment. The SunChips Facebook Fan page is being bombarded (as I write) with angry posts about the company’s apparent weakness in the face of vocal chip eaters. It seems that caving in to the complaints about mere noise set off the tirades.

Posts range from the furious and angry to disillusioned and sarcastic.

  • Héloïse Marinier … Not going to buy anymore Sun Chips you can count on that— maybe I won’t purchase ANY PepsiCo products any longer. Boo Ya.
  • Alain Fauteux Way to go priorities !! noise pollution over Earth pollution we must be a bunch of fat lazy complainning sissy’s
  • Julie Broyles I will not purchase ANY sun chips so long as the company is producing ANY non-compostable bags to appease to those annoyed by noisy bags.
  • Mary Roe I can’t believe that Sun Chips is changing bags because of noise and not staying with their sustainable practice thinking. It will cost you a lot of customers I predict
  • Amanda Santilli Who gives a flying fuck if the bag is noisy?!?!?! I would rather have a noisy bag and a healthier planet than a quieter bag and sick planet.

And yesterday, another Facebook Page has been set up: Bring back the loud Sunchips bag with the Information box stating the Page was “Founded: the day frito lay folded to idiot consumers who care more about the volume of thieir chips than the state of our planet”

So it seems this was a situation where FritoLay shouldn’t have listened (not a pun!) to the initial complaints about the noisy bags. Rather than ameliorating a packaging problem, in trying to respond, FritoLay has created more problems.

The company’s decision (1) divided its SunChip consumers into two opposing camps, (2) sabotaged its own efforts to be an environmentally sensitive good corporate citizen and (3) received a lot of bothersome press coverage over the issue.

In particular the mainstream press picked up on the Facebook activity:

Now that’s some noise to worry about!

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