In industry in general, “Biodegradables” is the fastest growing segment in the US packaging industry. Also in the snack industry biodegradable packaging has made headway – and headlines….
The first company to introduce biodegradable packaging for savory snacks was Frito-Lay, Pepsico’s subsidiary.
World’s largest potato chip manufacturer introduced a partially biodegradable packaging for Sunchips in spring 2009, followed by a fully biodegradable packaging in spring 2010.
The Sunchips bags are made from a renewable material - poly-lactic acid (PLA), made from starch- and in an active compost pile the bags completely break down in 14 weeks.
Frito-Lay was the first to introduce compostable bags, but meanwhile others have jumped on the bandwagon: Boulder Canyon (Inventure foods) introduced a biodegradable packaging based on woodpulp for its All Natural Kettle Cooked Potato Chip line.
Snyder’s of Hanover introduced a renewable polylactic acid packaging for its organic pretzel product line. The manufacturer of this packaging, Clear Lam Packaging Inc claims that when compared to traditional petroleum-based packaging, the renewable raw materials are produced with as little as half the energy and generate as little as 52 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions in the manufacturing process.
But the biodegradable PLA Sunchips bags have one property that you notice the moment you pick up or open a bag: they are “LOUD”. And it looks like Frito-Lay has grossly underestimated the importance of the acoustic properties of the packaging. A lot of buzz erupted around the topic. There even is a facebookpage “Sorry but I can’t hear you over this Sun chips bag”. When I just checked, the page was “liked” by over 50.000 people.
In August, Frito-Lay was still unforgiving on the topic: In response to the consumer noise over the issue, the company provided on-shelf signs stating "Yes, the bag is loud. That's what change sounds like."
But consumers spoke even louder: with sales in decline, Frito-Lay quietly changed plans. All Sunchips flavours switched back to “regular” packaging, except “Sunchips Original”, while Frito-Lay is developing the next generation biodegradable snack packaging.
Frito-lay (on twitter) stated to PotatoPro: “@PotatoPro Still committed to compostable! SunChips Original still in compostable bag as we work on less noisy, next gen bag for all flavs!”
What that next generation bag could look like becomes clear from remarks Frito-lay’s sister company Walkers in the UK: Walkers states it is aiming to make packets out of potato starch waste/potato peelings within 18 month.
Potato certainly has potential as raw material for bioplastic. Over 10 years ago I made a “plastic plate” from potato waste myself, which was remarkably straightforward. Of course, meeting the complex requirement of snacks packaging is a whole different ballgame: block light, oxygen, moisture, provide mechanical protection and printable, just to name a few. And Frito-lay just added a new requirement: not too loud.
Today, potato waste already finds its way in a number of highly sustainable applications such as bio-energy and use as animal feed.
But there is something magically appealing to the idea that potato chips could leave the factory in a bag made from the leftovers of those very same potatoes they are made of.
Paul van Eijck