Sun Chips: Creating the Aura of REAL Food

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The Sun is a frequent symbol of processed food manufacturers trying to elevate the benefits of their products

Imagery has always been a very powerful tool in marketing processed foods. When regulations get in the way of what manufacturers want to say, the use of iconic symbols and imagery has helped them bypass most restrictions in their quest to elevate their products and obscure reality.

One of the most compelling symbols in existence is the sun.  Since the dawn of mankind, it has been associated with a life-giving force. In many ways the sun is the very essence of nature. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see this symbol crop up frequently in packaging and advertising for processed foods.

 

Sun Chips is a prime example of a brand that taps into the power of the sun. Launched in 1991 as a healthier snacking choice, Frito-Lay has continued to build Sun Chips’ better for you, wholesome brand image. Check out this commercial from a couple years ago and see how the magic of advertising works:

*|YOUTUBE:WvKwJHWigqQ:300|*

Visuals of sunlight, fields of wholesome grain, and picturesque landscapes provide compelling imagery that works subconsciously and lays the foundation for beliefs that Sun Chips are a healthier, more natural snack. In addition to these visual cues, Frito-Lay now bursts “All Natural” on Sun Chips’ packages and also makes several back panel claims:Sun Chips claims to be All Natural

  • No artificial flaovrs
  • No preservatives
  • No MSG
  • 0g trans fat
  • 18g of whole grains per 1 oz. serving

But is the Sun Chips story really so sunny? Unfortunately the answer is “no.”  Although Sun Chips may be healthier than some of their salty snack brethren, that really isn’t a very hard mountain to climb. With 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 120mg of sodium in a 1 ounce serving, snacking regularly on Sun Chips probably will lead to some long-term trouble. And when you consider how few chips there are in a 1 ounce serving (see below), you realize that an average Sun Chips snacking session is likely to have at least two or three times the calories, fat, and sodium.

Sun Chips use of a one ounce serving size really isn't representative of what people eat on a snacking occasion.

Besides it’s dubious nutritional profile, there are several ingredients that don’t seem consistent with Sun Chips’s “All Natural” claim:

  1. Whole corn: If you’ve been reading my “All Natural … Really?” series very long, I’m sure you guessed it—this is GM corn (genetically modified)—hardly all natural in my book.
  2. Natural Flavor: This sounds like an innocent enough ingredient, but as Eric Schlosser points out in his book Fast Food Nation, “The distinction between artificial and natural flavors can be somewhat arbitrary and absurd based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains…. A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial one.” Natural Flavors are also closely guarded secrets of manufacturers and flavor houses. My request for more detail on exactly what is in Sun Chips’ natural flavors has yet to be answered, but rest assured, if it’s revealed, it’s most likely a list of complex chemical compounds that would double or triple the length of the ingredient panel.
  3. Maltodextrin: In the case of Sun Chips, maltodextrin has been enzymatically derived from GM corn.  The result is a bland to slightly sweet additive that is a staple in processed food. To me, maltodextrin is to starch what high fructose corn syrup is to sugar: a highly processed, man-made concoction that bears no resemblance to its raw ingredient forebears. Although it is easily digested by most people, if you’re having gastrointestinal issues, monitor your consumption of maltodextrin since in some cases it has been known to cause extreme GI issues.
So, after raining on your “sunny” day, you may wonder “what are some good snack options?” Well, after walking down the salty snack aisle in preparation for this article, I realized there are a lot a “healthy” words like natural being bantered about—enough so that I promise there will be more snack blog articles to come. That said, here’s my recommendation: make a real effort to minimize salty, processed snacks in your diet.  If you’re already big consumer of them, I have a couple suggestions:
  • Never eat out of the bag, it’s just too dangerous. If you’re going to indulge, get out a small bowl and control your portion.
  • Try replacing a serving or two a week with a serving of cut up veggies. Then each week, replace another of your salty snack servings with veggies until you’ve reduced your addiction to an occasional treat. A piece of fruit like an apple is also a good replacement option.
  • Good quality nuts are also a good alternative. But you’ve got to remember, nuts are packed with calories—a little goes a long way. So don’t go binging on the whole bag or jar.

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13 comments… add one

  • Tim October 17, 2011, 5:33 am

    Mixing Imperial and metric measures – 18g of whatever in 1oz of whatever – is really shameful. Like someone thought “How can I share information, but render it effectively meaningless.” You’ve got to be a pretty poor piece of work to think of something like that.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley October 17, 2011, 11:13 am

      Thanks for your comment Tim. I agree. Let’s not ever be mistaken. The objective of the processed food industry isn’t to give an accurate perception of what’s truly IN any given product. Rather, food companies are only concerned about driving sales, so they will work dutifully to research different claims in hopes of maximizing brand growth. Truly educating a consumer is rarely if ever on their radar.

      Reply
      • Anthea Menard November 2, 2011, 3:14 pm

        I may be one of the few members of the Canadian generation (early 1980′s) who were in elementary school during the phasing out of the Imperial measurements and introduction of the metric system. For me, it is easy to work in either system. I’ll run a 10 K at a 10 minute mile pace ;)
        But to use both systems on one food label is truly annoying, and it seems deliberately planned to make it impossible for the average consumer to quickly make a good shopping decision at the store.

        Reply
        • Bruce Bradley November 2, 2011, 3:23 pm

          Thanks for your comment Anthea. I totally agree. Unlike you, I have to pull out my calculator or metric converter on my phone to be able to make sense of it. In general, a good rule of thumb is to “think critically” and never believe at face value any claims made by food manufacturers.

          Keep the comments coming. Thanks again for participating on my blog!

          Reply
  • mike J November 7, 2011, 6:44 pm

    Hi- I wonder could you use those same sophisticated,flashy marketing & packaging tools to efficiently,accurately, & effectively market minimally processed, low margin good-for-you products ???
    I’ve seen indra-nooyi/ pepsi ceo [who evolved out of India] make a distinction
    ” Our belief is the following: There’s always going to be a market and a terrific market for fun-for-you, better-for-you products because people always want to have a moment of fun and want a moment of indulgence, and you’re never going to tell them not to do that because it is just fine to have all of those products.

    But there’s also a growing market, and that market for good-for-you products is growing about three times as much as the market for fun-for-you products. And these are products that give you positive nutrition like fruit and vegetables, grains, protein, these markets are growing 8, 9 percent a year in the developed world.
    source:http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/10/05/pepsi-indra-nooyi/

    Reply
  • General Healthy November 15, 2011, 11:41 am

    Yes…the sun is being “used” and abused. I wish Mother Nature could exact revenge. And, don’t forget these toppers of the Sun-Abusers List: SunnyD and SunKist!!

    Love your blogs.

    General Healthy

    Reply
  • AJ February 23, 2012, 11:56 pm

    I mean, the post has some generally fair points. Clearly marketing is desiigned to sell, which often involves clever deception. But it’s so pervasive and so acceptable that consumers really shouldnt be surprised at this point. If you don’t know that a snack sold alongside cheese puffs and bean dip is not healthy, then you’re doing it wrong. So your reporting on this “news” seems rather patronizing.

    In any event, I only wanted to comment because this website, or the platform on which it is based, has an absolutely infuriating mobile experience. I can’t even see what I am typing on my iPhone because the screen is covered. Ompletely by buttons, overlays, share widgets, and such. They just fly out over the text while I am reading, too. Likely not your fault, but I thought you should know. Now to figure out how to submit amid all this chaos…

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley February 24, 2012, 3:34 pm

      Thanks for your comment, AJ. Unfortunately many people aren’t as “aware” of how marketing manipulates and deceives them. We can hope though!

      Regarding your technical problems with my blog, my apologies. I’m looking into your concerns immediately and hope to have some solutions to address them.

      Thanks,

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Stargazer July 16, 2012, 5:38 pm

    As a nutritionist once told me, “Never trust a company to tell you that their product is good for you.” You have to be proactive and do the research yourself, especially concerning the foods you feed your children.

    Reply
  • truth June 7, 2013, 8:45 am

    Food companies are driven by greed. Greed is the essence of Western society, especially America. We legitimatize many things in order to sell. Even this website, with its onslaught of side bars, is a reflection of this overindulgence – addiction – to sell. And to what end? Accumulation of wealth.

    Financial obesity.

    Is there any escape? Every endeavor is being consumed by this voracious appetite of I want more money for myself and I will disguise it in the form of convincing you I am giving you want you want.

    So we pick our battles. We all fail. This site tries to give information on healthy and capitalizing or monetize that by making the site “free” while inundating the user with attempts to sell.

    For most, being massaged by the medium – by all culture! – in this manner has become so normalized that we don’t notice how nefarious it is.

    Hence, everything has become another ploy to sell. This is the gift that U.S. has given the world.

    Reply
  • Will November 1, 2013, 11:19 am

    Hi Bruce,
    This is my first time reading your blog so forgive me if I missed something. My question is, how do you know the corn is GM? I couldn’t find anything on the package- were you able to get in touch with SunChips and confirm this or is it an assumption given the amount of genetically modified foods around today? Thanks, great article.

    Reply
    • Bruce Bradley November 8, 2013, 5:20 pm

      Hi Will. Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately GMOs are not required to be labeled in the US (over 60 countries do require GMO labeling and almost all industrialized nations except for the US). So, in order to tell if the corn is GM, you must choose organic products or look for a made with non-GMO project label. Here’s a link to what that label looks like: http://www.nongmoproject.org

      Hope that helps!

      Bruce

      Reply
  • Dan January 9, 2014, 1:34 pm

    As an occasional treat I don’t see any problem eating a small bag of Sun Chips, especially when compared to other snack food items commonly available.

    Reply

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Commenting Policy: Following the advice of a popular blogger, I’m running my blog conversation like it’s my living room. Just so you know, I won’t tolerate bad behavior in my living room, and I won’t tolerate it on here. Critical is fine and differing opinions are encouraged. But if you’re rude … bye bye. And when commenting, please use your PERSONAL name or initials and NOT your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. The bottom line is, be cool, keep it clean, and have fun! Thanks in advance for adding to the conversation!

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Bruce Bradley

Bruce Bradley

I'm a father, food advocate, consultant, and author.

Bruce is a former processed food exec turned food advocate, blogger, and author.

Before his food advocacy work, Bruce worked for over fifteen years as a marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. As one of the only former processed food marketers actively speaking out about concerns over the food we eat, the media often seeks Bruce out for his honest perspective. His 2011 interview, Confessions of a former Big Food Executive, was one of Grist online's Top 10 clicked stories for 2011.

Bruce now writes, performs speaking engagements, and provides business strategy and marketing consultant services to help ethical, sustainable businesses reach their potential.

Bruce graduated with an MBA from Duke University and a B.A. from Davidson College. Born and raised in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, he now lives in Minneapolis, MN with his son and their dog, Katie.

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