Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Think Global, Market Local

How does Frito-Lay's new marketing campaign seek to change the conversation about "local" food -- and what are the implications for Frito-Lay's sustainability efforts? By Jacquelyn Ottman and Sarah McGrath

Frito-Lay’s new “Lay’s Local” marketing campaign attempts to reposition their mass-produced potato chips as a local food. New ads celebrate the eighty plus farmers in 27 states who grow the two billion pounds of potatoes used in Lay’s chips each year. They then direct consumers to a website where they can trace the potatoes in their bag of chips back to the farm where they were grown.

We applaud Frito-Lay’s use of American farmers and manufacturing—something we dearly wish for many other products that we buy. And we admire their ability to engage snack food consumers who historically have been more concerned with smacking their lips on salt and grease than reading ingredient labels.

However, in starting a conversation about potatoes and local American farms, we wish that Frito-Lay would connect its interest in leveraging the community supported agricultural movement with the transparency that is suggested by the effort.  We also remain concerned with what could be construed as an intent to avoid the negative publicity associated with snack foods.

The potatoes in a bag of Lay’s may have been grown in America (as is the case for Granny Goose, Utz, Wise and all other brands chips, many of which still leverage local roots and family businesses) – but under what contractual agreement? Are potatoes farmed factory style, in contrast to what may be suggested by the folksy campaign? Issues that skeptics might consider.

Bags of Lay’s now sport a cutaway-style photo spotlighting potatoes nestled inside. A potato is way healthier than a potato chip. Although potatoes may be the primary ingredient, the cutaway could be construed as misleading—there are chips, not potatoes inside that bag—and beauty shots of raw potatoes obviates the salt and grease that could be harmful to many.

Finally, claiming a position in the local food movement raises questions about what “local” really means when it comes to food. Up till now, buying and eating locally has required consumers to be familiar with the farms and crops in their area – think local greenmarkets—but now Lay’s has redefined “local” so that eating locally is as simple as taking a trip to the nearest grocery store. And just because your bag of potato chips may have been grown “locally” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a healthy choice.   END

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