To compost or not to compost

So, I was going to write an article about Frito-Lay/SunChips’ new biodegradable bag (which I purchased for the first time last week), and to initiate a discussion about whether or not, from a cause marketing point of view, the company has done a strategic job of leveraging their CSR efforts to their best business advantage.  But when I sat down to read up about SunChips’ marketing process, I learned that the biodegradable bag had been yanked due to noise levels!

Indeed, I noticed right away that the bag was noisy.  Like a freight train actually.  But as an environmentally concerned consumer, I felt good knowing that I could put the bag in my green bin. In fact – I wasn’t much of a SunChips enthusiast before the bag hit the shelves.  I bought the chips because of the bag.  And I suppose that was part of the company’s motivation for introducing a compost-able bag in the first place.  Again, as an environmentally concerned consumer, I was shocked that feedback over the bag’s noise level would have been enough to prompt an overhaul of SunChips’ heavily hyped and costly compost-able bag rollout. 

So what exactly is going on here?  Why all of the corporate flip-flopping around a fairly compelling and cutting-edge green packaging initiative?  My best guess is that Frito-Lay determined (after an assessment of focus groups and initial reactions) that the bottom line business gain resulting from their CSR efforts (after all, lots of folks like me would have probably continued buying the chips in spite of the noise) was going to be eclipsed by the broader public’s reaction to the bag’s noise level.  In other words, good business sense trumped the company’s interest in doing good

Frito-Lay is going to reintroduce a quieter version of their biodegradable bag soon enough, so they haven’t abandoned ship altogether.  But there is a fundamental lesson to be learned – that is, CSR efforts must be strategic.  They have to integrate with the bigger business picture.  They have to consider the needs and interests of target markets and corporate stakeholders.  In other words, while they have to be authentic, they ultimately have to help drive business (and certainly not undermine it). 

Sounds like basic stuff.  Also sounds like Frito-Lay learned the hard way.

Passion Points:

  • When considering a CSR or sustainability strategy, don’t lose sight of the business bigger picture
  • Consider the demographic of your key stakeholder groups – what are their priorities and interests, how will they react to your CSR platform?
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