“Going Green” is all the rage these days and SunChips thought it would lock down some sweet PR and good press when it unveiled a new 100% biodegradable bag.
If you haven’t heard, Frito-Lay, makers of SunChips announced in 2009 that by 2010 all its bags would be 100% biodegradable. The company got a lot of great PR and media coverage, drawing accolades from environmental groups and bloggers.
There was just one problem: the bag was super loud. How loud? It was estimated that when individuals were eating chips out of the bag it created noise up to 95 decibels, or about 5 decibels louder than what experts warn you to avoid in order to prevent hearing loss. SunChips was suddenly looking at tens of thousands of online consumers angry about how disruptive the bag was when they tried to eat their SunChips in class, late at night etc. A Facebook group titled “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG” has attracted over 50,000 members.
Even worse, consumers were voting with their pocketbooks. Sales of SunChips have declined every single month since the new bags were introduced and overall sales are down a whopping 11% in the past year. With SunChips bottom line getting battered and bruised, the brand made the decision last week to go back to the old packaging while the company explored ways to make a less noisy biodegradable bag.
SunChips is by no means the first brand to face a backlash over new, more environmentally friendly packaging. In 2008, Coke introduced re-designed caps for its plastic bottles that were “more green” by utilizing less plastic.Â Despite thousands of complaints by consumers that the new caps slice the skin on their hands or are more difficult to open, Coke has shown no signs of going back to the old cap design, even though these complaints continue to this day.
Now I don’t begrudge SunChips for ditching the new environmentally friendly bags. SunChips is a business. If its consumers are upset and are reacting by buying fewer and fewer bags of the product, there is a responsibility to its customers, employees and shareholders to take action to reverse this trend. This does, however, present an interesting situation. SunChips is (very publicly, I might add) switching to packaging that is WORSE for the environment than what is currently being used.
Is anyone aware of any other company, in this age of “going green”, that has made a conscious decision to switch to packaging that is WORSE for the environment? Has any consumer packaged goods company ever made such a well-publicized business decision of ANY kind that is so blatantly and obviously anti-green and anti-environment? Does SunChips deserve praise for listening to consumers and trying to reverse declining sales? Or does it deserve condemnation for folding like a cheap suit in the face of online rabble-rousers, leading to a business decision that will by anyone’s estimation actually HURT the environment? What say you So Good readers?