Sunday, February 27, 2011

History of Sunchips Biodegradable Bags on Consumer Market

On the top of the Yahoo! Search lines today – Sunchips bags. Let’s review, step-by-step, what could possibly bring the public interest to such a trivial item.

Fully Bio-degradable bags introduction

In April 2009, it has been announced that, just in time for Earth Day in 2010, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay Div. would be rolling out compostable packaging. Applied to bags of its SunChips brand, a popular line of multigrain snacks, the plant-based, biodegradable material is a structure made of NatureWorks' ( polylactic acid (PLA) film, which should decompose over 14 weeks when placed in a hot, active compost bin or pile—at home or at an industrial composting site.

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The company made enormous marketing effort to play up its environmentally friendly nature as the package was made from plants and not plastic and could break down in compost.

However, the problems came from totally unexpected side. Unhappy customers complained the bag was too loud. The stiffer material made it give off noise of that, measured in decibels, is about as loud as a busy city street.

Packages recall

Use of the new environment friendly, but noisy, packages triggered widespread irritation among customers - and caused SunChips sales to drop by as much as 11% over the 52 weeks after the bags became available in March 2010. Profits is a good indicator of the solution effectiveness, and Frito-Lay quickly realized that the bags were trouble, especially when a Facebook group called "Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChips Bag" gathered quickly of more than 44,000 fans.

"It was interesting we got a lot of extremely positive feedback ... but on the same hand we heard one overwhelming complaint," said Brad Rodgers, manager of sustainable packaging for PepsiCo advanced research.

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So Frito-Lay got rid of the biodegradable bags last October for all flavors except Original SunChips.

New solution

PepsiCo Inc., which owns Frito-Lay, spent a good chunk of last year trying to find a solution. The company found that if it used a different adhesive to put together the two layers of a bag — one which protects the food on the inside and one which carries the logo and labels on the outside — it created a sort of noise barrier.

Brad Rodgers said engineers looked at dozens of possible options. He admitted that he was initially suspect of the theory that the razor-thin layer of adhesive would solve such a big problem. But engineers found that a more rubber-like adhesive really did absorb some of the sound.

The company's first design gave off noise that registered at roughly 80 to 85 decibels. The new design dampens the noise to around 70 decibels, on par with its original packaging and most other chip bags.

The new bags are already hitting store shelves with Original SunChips. If all goes well, Frito-Lay will roll out the bags to all SunChips flavors.

How compostable is the old package?

In the light of the customer complaints on the noise, the question of how real are the manufacturer claims on the biodegradability of the old packages has been not addressed by the consumers.

The first warning sign was received from the Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, announcing May 18, 2010, that it will not accept the bags in its Green Bin program because the film takes too long to degrade in the community's composting plant.

"The Sun Chips bags are made of polylactic acid, which is a corn starch-based product similar to that which is used in the compostable liner bags that are accepted in the Region's organics program. Both products compost under the right conditions, however, the Sun Chips bags have three layers of and compost in about 14 weeks (the same term as promised manufacturers term), while the bin liner bags are a single layer and break down in three to four weeks," Andrew Pollock, director of waste management services, said.

"The Walkers' Gore Composting Facility, which processes the Region's Green Bin material, produces compost in eight weeks. As such, the Sun Chips bag may not fully break down in the composting process. Bags that do not fully break down would be screened out and landfilled.

If the Canadian rejection was based purely on the released compostability term, the further consumer reports questioned the advertised 14-weeks term itself as being inaccurate. Recently the old bag was tested out to see if they could decompose quickly. Testing found that the bag, after 14 weeks in the compost pile, remained intact. In the test, the bag was placed in a home-compost with wood chips, grass clippings, dirt, and leaves.

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“The items in contact with the bag composted nicely, but the bag itself? Take a look at the photo. It might decay in an ‘industrial’ compost pile, though we can't say for sure,” the report said.

Let’s see if the new packages can address the questionable biodegradability as well, otherwise revealing that the company advertising does not reflect the real situation might hit again the product sales.

Sources and Additional Information:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this. It's really good news that Frito Lays has decided to replace its noisy Sun Chips bag. Something else that's related to it is this video I saw on the GreenopolisTV youtube channel. Check it out.