Sensible Reasons Chips Bags Have So Much Air

As someone who has worked with bags of chips on the chip aisle in groceries so much, a fairly common conversation I overhear others say to each other is that chip bags have so much air in them to deceive people into thinking there’s more inside, but I interrupt them to say that’s not why.

Here are several reasons why your chips have so much air in the bag, and why that is completely reasonable.

1. A bag with more air can’t be crushed as easily, meaning less fractured chips. You may notice that chips like Cheetos and Fritos have less air in them (but also smaller bag sizes) and that’s because those chips are tougher to break, so the need for air cushioning is reduced. With as many people that handle the bags, and with as many times they are handled, the presence of air prevents individual stockers from crushing the chips inside by there being more air, since grasping the bag front to back would leave more space in between due to the tensile strength of the bag, for the chips to remain in.

If you buy a TV retail, the box is larger than the TV is, because the box contains both the TV and often foam corner cushions to help prevent damage to the TV. You’re not being deceived in buying less-TV or a smaller TV based on how big the box is; the bigger box protects the actual TV you’re buying. Likewise, the ounces of chips you’re buying are more protected in transit and in the stocking process by having a larger bag with more air. The ounces are printed on the front, just as a TV size is printed on the front.

The product inside needs to be able to withstand a wide range of possible customer interactions before the person who eventually does purchase it opens the bag (and would naturally blame the chip maker or the store for any crushed items even if other customers actually did it).

2. Perfect-seal/freshness checking is far easier with more air. Sometimes when receiving cases of chips, there will be one or two inside that seem deflated somewhat, and may have a slow leak that is not obvious, meaning the freshness is questionable from not having a complete seal on it, and dirt/etc could have gotten inside. Having more air in the bag helps with being able to compress gently to detect whether there is any seal rupture, so that it can be refunded as damaged goods.

3. When employees of a store perform “pull up” stocking, or “facing” products neatly in line on a shelf when closing shop for the day or other reasons, a technique to prevent crushing chips when pulling them forward is to grasp two chip bags one-in-front-of-another at the same corner, so that the bags become taut between each other, making the bag a kind of more-solid container to pull forward without crushing the two bags together. If there were not any air inside, the chips would more likely get crushed.

Employees should generally try to avoid feeling any chips when making contact with the bag in order to minimize crushing them, and pinching the bags at one corner on top so both bags press together and become taut, they can be moved forward with less breakage of the chips inside.

3. Elevation, and air pressure over shipping distance, means an illusion of more or less air. In higher-tech chip companies, the amount of air inside is very specific, because of any needs to ship over a longer distance with differences in elevation and air pressure.

When I was a kid, we drove from Texas to California and back. In California, we picked up a large bag of Tostitos chips, but since we stored it strangely, we never got around to opening it the whole trip back to Texas, and when we unloaded it, it was a tight as a drum. You could flick it with your fingernail and it would make a clear tone, the bag was so taut. It wasn’t that it gained more air, but that the elevation and thus air pressure difference of the two regions made the finite amount of air stretch the material of the bag. This is the same principal of why balloons pop once they reach a certain altitude.

If you’re shipping chips from one region to another, how much air you put in the bag will seem smaller or greater depending on which direction you’re shipping to, so bags may offer the illusion of having more or less air upon arrival depending, so you need to standardize how much you need to put in.

4. The people who design “planograms” or the layout of products on a shelf in which particular order vertically and horizontally, occasionally don’t assign enough vertical room for a bag of chips to fit inside, so sometimes the chips may lean backwards to fit right. There is an intentional amount of room at the top of a bag filled with air in order to ensure that the unknowable randomness of which particular shelf it will be placed on probably has enough space to house it without crushing anything inside, which is not something the bag designers can directly account for in the manufacturing process because any given bag may get placed in a big supermarket, on a teensy convenience store rack, etc. By allowing an amount at the top to vary without affecting the chips, is a way to account for the variations in shelving heights.

5. Some chips are more often bought by younger people, and younger people tend to be rougher with the product, such as throwing the product into the shopping cart as if it were a basketball shot, or little kids running around with it in their hands and tripping. The amount of air inside a particular kind of chip bag sold moreso to young consumers might require extra air to ensure the product remains intact despite such rough-housing.

Some products like Taki’s, tend to be stocked on lower shelves within easy reach of little kids who want some, which may grab them and throw them around. As mentioned in reason 1, Takis are remarkably durable and don’t need a lot of cushioning, plus kids are not as discriminating against whether the chips are broken as they’ll just shovel it into their mouth without looking. Taki’s bags may have less air in them to make it easier for younger people (who have poorer manual dexterity) to grab the bags and keep them in hand without losing them.

6. Some product packaging designs sell better than others, including with more or less air inside.

Say that you’re an inventor and you have a product you want to sell. You experiment with a purple box and a yellow box, and you discover that despite being the same product in either box, the yellow one sells better for some reason. You also experiment with different shades of yellow, different kinds of logo, different features listed on the carton, etc, and in the case of chips, a different amount of air that still satisfies all of the above requirements.

The amount of air in a bag may affect sales in terms of a “descriptive” analysis of sales, rather than a “prescriptive” motive to sell it that way.

As far as descriptive and prescriptive goes, think of sport scores. A newspaper reports on a sporting event’s score descriptively, in that, when the teams played, the score that resulted was described (by observation) by the newspaper. The newspaper is not, however “prescribing” the score, as if to say, “all future meets between these teams will score the same as this,” nor “from now on, this set of teams is only permitted to score this.”

Saying that a chip maker adds more air into chip bags in order to deceive the customer into thinking that more are inside when there is actually less, is a prescriptive way of reading the issue, rather than the much more simply and common-sense descriptive way.

By noticing that as an observation of past sales, chips with x volume of air some more units than with y volume of air, for whatever reason, just as with the yellow and purple box your invention was sold in, a company put more or less air in. For whatever reason chips sold, there might be a correlation, rather than an intentional deception, that by simple observation, more units sold than the other, when more air was present, despite being the same bag, same total ounces listed on the front, etc.

If you’re wanting to maximize sales from an established company, especially in a highly litigious society, there’s no sense in bothering with deception, and just go plainly with what does or doesn’t sell better by simple observation.

Do you not suppose that, by having less air in the bag, that a store could fit more product on the shelf front to back, to have higher amounts of sales and prevent shortage situations? That alone would be reason to have reduced air, but the inclusion of the air is more important to sales by having less product on the shelf, by maintaining the quality of the product on the shelf.

When items on a grocery store shelf are all “faced” forward to the front, is the store attempting to “deceive” the customer that there is more in stock?

Why even bother to think it must be deception, when there are other perfectly reasonable explanations?

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