Pepsi has confirmed an age-old conspiracy: it prefers more air in its crisp packets as it lowers costs. Moreover, the drinks-and-snacks giant appears to view the greater air content of Lay's Poppables - its new line of air-filled potato crisps - as positive for consumers.
Pepsi's Frito-Lay division sold a higher proportion of premium products in the second quarter of this year. CFO Hugh Johnston used Poppables as an example: as they contain more air - well, nitrogen - than other crisps, they cost less to produce and ship, lifting profits. "So when you are selling a potato puff, you are obviously filling the bag with less weight than you would say with a bag of Fritos," Johnston told analysts. "So we think that's a good win for the consumer and it's obviously a good win for us as well."
It's unclear how consumers benefit from paying more for fewer crisps - their grocery bags are less heavy? Anticipating criticism, Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi rushed to add that Poppables are a "great tasting product". Still, Johnston's perception of higher air content as a "good win" for Pepsi confirms suspicions that the company actively looks to sell gas rather than potatoes. We have reached out to Pepsi for comment, and will update this story if we hear back.
Critics have attacked air-filled crisp packets for years. Artist Henry Hargreaves weighed several brands of crisps, discovering their gas content ranged from 56% (Chex Mix) to 86% (Doritos and Lay's, both owned by Frito-Lay). Similarly, Channel 4's Supershoppers estimate gas makes up 70% of a small bag of Doritos. Although "slack fill" provides an air cushion that protects crisps from breakage during transit or stocking, and the use of nitrogen keeps them fresh, filling less than a third of a crisp packet with actual crisps is a little stingy.
Pepsi's higher prices and novel products helped to offset the fallout from its widely panned Kendall Jenner advert. The company also hopes virtual-reality shopping will help solve the problem of impulse purchases - fewer people buy snacks and sodas when they shop online. However, introducing products packed with more air - and bragging about them to analysts - doesn't seem a wise long-term strategy. Eventually, consumers will tire of being shortchanged and revolt.