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Frito-Lay SunChips: When Sustainable Packaging Conflicts With Consumers’ Sensory Needs

Savory snack giant Frito-Lay re-launched its popular SunChips healthier snacking range in the US and Canada in plant-based, 100%-compostable packaging, but the noise created when the product was used led to a significant consumer backlash. As a result, the company has reverted to conventional packaging for most of its SunChips lines in the US, although it has retained the compostable packaging in Canada. This article examines how a lack of attention paid to the packaging’s sensory qualities, to consumers’ key needs from snack packaging, and to managing potential problems in advance, undermined Frito-Lay’s re-launch.

Environmental concerns are becoming extremely important in the food and drinks industry, with a particular consumer focus on packaging and recyclability, and manufacturers need to act on these concerns.

SunChips had the right product profile to use for a shift over to more sustainable packaging, with a greater existing focus on health and sustainability concerns than most products in the savory snacks category.

With sustainable packaging design still not a mature industry, there is a greater risk that new products will have unexpected traits that lead to a negative consumer experience than in product areas that are more tried and tested. Consumers are not willing to compromise on other key traits for sustainability, so this can lead to negative impacts as this particular case illustrates.

The tagline for SunChips focused on the concept of “compostability” to the exclusion of the sustainable, plant-based nature of the new packaging. With few consumers regularly composting, and with the industry not yet mature, it is likely that the environmental benefits were not as well understood as they might have been for a broader campaign showing SunChips’ environmental advantages.

The US marketing campaign initially sought to minimize the noise associated with SunChips, whereas it was put forward as a positive in Canada from the initial launch. This left Frito-Lay on the back foot when consumer complaints occurred in the US, whereas in Canada the company controlled the narrative. It is possible that a Canadian-style campaign in the US could have made consumers more willing to accommodate the brand.

Find this interesting. For more, please read our case study Frito-Lay SunChips Case Study: When Sustainable Packaging Conflicts With Consumers’ Sensory Needs or check out our Buy Reports section for thousands of company, industry & country analysis reports.


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