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Chips bags too noisy for US, but a hit in Canada

by Staff Writers
Montreal (AFP) Nov 17, 2010
Frito-Lay had hoped its launch of the first compostable chips bag would be a hit with environmentally-conscious consumers, but a backlash over the very noisy pouch forced its removal from US store shelves.

Now, determined not to allow four years of research to develop the bags go to waste, it is trying a new marketing ploy to sell Canadian consumers on their merits.

Displays in stores tout the bag's "unique sound" as the "new sound of green."

The company is also fighting back with humor on YouTube, where American naysayers had posted tens of thousands of messages denouncing the new bags as "loud enough to wake the dead."

"Hello Canada!," says a smiling Anne-Marie Renaud, vice-president of the company's Canadian branch, in a self-deprecating public service announcement urging consumers to weigh the benefits and cons of the bag -- "a bit more noise for a bit less waste."

The company will send a free pair of earplugs to the unconvinced, she said.

The bags, made of a renewable vegetable-based material and corn-based polymer polylactic acid, take only 14 weeks to decompose.

Tests showed, however, that it also crinkles at more than 90 decibels, about the same level of noise produced by a gas-powered lawnmower. Thus it would be impossible to watch a film at home while eating chips without waking up the children. Eating chips at a cinema would be unimaginable.

"I just can't bear the noise this bag makes," said one American critic on Youtube.

The bags were finally removed from US store shelves in October, 18 months after their grand launch.

With tens of thousands raging against the bags on Facebook, Frito Lay's chip sales plummeted 11 percent during the period.

But in Canada, the company chose not to retreat and instead opted to face criticisms head on.

"It's true that it's somewhat noisy (crunch, crunch, crunch)," said Renaud. "But it's also an opportunity to reduce waste, to beautify Canada and protect the environment."

"It's a step in the right direction for preserving the environment," she said.

Benoit Duguay, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM) opined that the new strategy was "very smart marketing."

"They've managed to transform something negative into something positive and it's working," he said.

Indeed, Canadian sales of the company's SunChips have remained strong and Frito Lay has won unexpected support from local environmentalists.

"What's good about it," commented Antoine Garcia-Suarez of RE-buts, a Montreal environmental group concerned about waste management, "is that a company has actually come up with a concrete solution for consumers, for once."

"We have packaging now that the consumer just has to throw in a composter. It's now up to consumers to decide how far they are ready to go to support sustainable development," he added.

Frito Lay, meanwhile, has not given up on developing a less-noisy bag, which should be available within a year.

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