The Psychological Trick Behind Potato Chip Bags

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Whether you prefer the neon orange dust of Cheetos, try to keep things relatively healthy with pretzels, or firmly believe in the impossibility of eating just one Lay’s potato chip, your snack choices all have one thing in common: their packaging.

With the exception of Pringles, almost all chips come in a crinkly polymer bag. Your chief complaint about those bags may be how they’re only filled about halfway, but that’s on purpose—the bags are filled with nitrogen to create an air cushion that helps protect the delicate snacks within.

Another part of the bag design that’s completely intentional: the noise it makes. Research has shown that the crinkly, crunchy noise produced by the polymer increases the user’s sensory experience, leading snackers to feel that the chips are crisper, crunchier, and fresher than those not served in the bag.

But there is a tipping point to the effect, as Frito Lay inadvertently discovered. In 2010, the company introduced a new, compostable bag for their Sun Chips brand. Consumers quickly picked up on the fact that the bag, made of a corn-based polylactic acid, was louder than the old version—a lot louder. The bag tested at 95 decibels, which is about as loud as a motorcycle. The ear-piercing package even inspired a Facebook community called “SORRY BUT I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS SUN CHIPS BAG,” liked by more than 40,000 people. Due to consumer response, the bag was changed again in 2011.