In the mid 90s, Lays ran a commercial where a bag of potato chips grew after being purchased and quickly outgrew the size of the convertible it was being brought home in. My house was mostly only stocked with healthfood store brand chips and crunchy snacks but when a brand like Lays would find its way into the kitchen, I took advantage. I opened one bag and was disappointed to see it half full, especially after remembering the giant-bag commercial which I indignantly wrote about at the time as “being merely filled with air” (which was an impassioned Mr Smith goes to Washington moment for little 90′s me). I wrote that in my first complaint letter to a corporation demanding justice for my half-portion of chips and I received it in the form of a response from Lays explaining that I was in fact not cheated out of my allotted chip apportionment but rather each bag is weighed and can appear less-full due to settling on the shelf. Even to kid-me, it made sense and I felt silly for making the complaint. But they gave me a coupon, good anywhere, for a free bag for my troubles and my opinion of the brand grew, so it was a smart move by them.
When relaying this story to a friend recently, he shared with me this link from a site called Packaging Digest (there’s a niche for everything) talking about the amount of chips per bag:
Over the years, Consumer Reports has tackled various issues related to product packaging — over-packaging (the so-called “golden cocoon”), hard-to-open packaging (bestowing offenders with an “oyster award”), and now bags, boxes, and bottles with what seems like lots of excess or dead space, which CR dubbed “black-hole” packaging.
A recent Consumer Reports investigation turned up several products with packages that are as much as half empty. Those include One A Day Men’s 50 + Advantage vitamins, where the plastic 50-tablet bottle looks about 40 percent empty, and Lay’s Potato chip bags that are half-filled.
Other products with ample wiggle room include Mrs. Paul’s Lightly Breaded Tilapia Fillets, Pasta Roni Garlic & Olive Oil Vermicelli, and Quaker Oatmeal to Go Brown Sugar Cinnamon bars.
Relying mostly on nominations from readers, Consumer Reports rounded up a handful of products and asked the companies behind them for an explanation of all that air-to-spare. Packages CR looked at are examples of what is likely to be found on store shelves, and don’t necessarily represent the worst offenders out there.
“We get a lot of questions from frustrated readers asking why such packages are often so large relative to the amount of product inside,” said Tod Marks, senior project editor, Consumer Reports. “But even when extra space is perfectly legal, it’s natural to wonder whether you’re getting the amount of product you paid for.”
The federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act is supposed to prevent the public from being misled by packages containing excessive “slack fill,” nonfunctional or empty space that creates an illusion of more product, often through underfilling, indented bottoms, or extra walls. But slack fill is allowed if it keeps a product from breaking, if the package does double-duty (as a dispenser, or a tray, for example) to accommodate machinery on the assembly line, or to discourage theft in the store.
According to Consumer Reports’ investigation, the law gives manufacturers plenty of wiggle room. The FDA hasn’t acted against a slack-fill violation in five years.
Clearly, this is all Obama’s fault, as the same friend also shared with me when he found this transcript from July of this year of a child caller into the Rush Limbaugh show about what else – but the amount of chips sold per bag:
CALLER: Ever since Obama’s been elected, I used to buy chip bags at the store and they used to be all the way full, but now they’re only half full. Why is that?
RUSH: Really? What kind of chips are we talking about here?
CALLER: Potato chips.
RUSH: What brand?
CALLER: The Lay’s kind.
RUSH: The Lay’s kind. So you’re buying Lay’s potato chips, and the bag is only half full now?
CALLER: Yes, that is correct.
RUSH: Since Obama was elected?
RUSH: Well, you know, I’m glad you told me. I eat potato chips, but I never see the bag. When I get ‘em, they’re already out of the bag.
RUSH: But this doesn’t surprise me. Have you mentioned this to your parents?
CALLER: Yes, I have.
RUSH: What do they think?
CALLER: They really don’t know.
RUSH: They really don’t know.
CALLER: So I decided to call you and ask.
RUSH: Well, I think you’re on to something. You’re in Mississippi, and I don’t think the mayor of New York has anything to do with what happens in Mississippi yet, but this is a toughie. Have you made this assessment on every bag of potato chips that you bought?
CALLER: Most of them.
RUSH: Most of them.
CALLER: Well, honestly, Trent, if what you say is true, it could be a sneaky way for them to avoid having to increase the published price. I don’t know. See, the problem is, I don’t know what the price for your bag of Lay’s potato chips is today versus last year or –
CALLER: I think they’ve gone up about two dollars.
RUSH: Well, then my theory is wrong. The price has gone up two dollars, and the amount of potato chips in there has been cut in half?
RUSH: It sounds to me like the Lay’s people, the potato chip people are hoarding product, anticipating, perhaps, economic drought, potato famine, maybe the Obama administration banning potato chips somewhere. Michelle would be the one to do that and they’re just trying to save the product so they have supply. It could be that it’s really not happening. It could just be that the contents of the bags are being shipped a longer distance to your store. In the process, they’re settling more in the bag, making it look like the bag is only half full when it really isn’t. Now, do you have a theory? Have you evolved a theory of your own to explain this?
CALLER: No, not really.
RUSH: But you think it’s got something to do with Obama?
CALLER: Yes, I do, because he’s raised the price of everything, and the quality and the quantity of stuff has gone down.
CALLER: So I think it’s because of Obama.
RUSH: Well, that’s hard to disagree with. Obama is not personally in charge of the price, but the things that have happened to the country economically have resulted in the cost of everything going up.
RUSH: For a host of reasons. Well, are you eating fewer potato chips now? Are your parents buying fewer bags.
CALLER: No. They’re buying the same amount, but there just aren’t as many in there.
RUSH: Well, if your parents don’t have a problem, just buy more bags.
CALLER: Yes, sir. Thank you.