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’s why.
1. Elevation differences over distance.
If you have never traveled between areas with changes in altitude, I can see why you might not understand this so readily. On a road trip from California to Texas, our family had purchased a bag of Tostitos in California (lower altitude), and it managed to stay unopened the whole trip back to our area of Texas (higher altitude). When we were unloading the luggage, we found the bag of chips, and the bag was stretched as tight with air like a balloon, that could tap on it with a fingernail and bring out a clear drum sound.
The changes in elevation from sea level of the regions we passed, eventually rising away from sea level across the US, meant the air pressure greatly reduced and made the bag swell. For this reason, I believe chip bags contain a very specific amount of air to account for changes in elevation that it would possibly encounter within its region of distribution.
Chips are generally not made in the same city as where it is sold, so the bags must be transported long distances in some cases, and putting a certain amount of air inside each to account for those differences, would be pretty important to get right, or else you might have a whole cases of popped bags.
2. Stocking Without Crushing
When “facing” a product on the shelf, that is, bringing it forward to have a uniform appearance across the shelf front, chip bags need to be grabbed from the top. Generally we try to avoid making contact with any chips thru the bag, and try to grab the bag itself only, and the air assists this. Some stores have a standardized “2 to the front” facing rule, that instead of bringing everything to the front, to save time just bring 2 forward, making the outer shelf ridge be 2 deep with product.
When grabbing 2 bags at once, if grabbed the right way, you can compress the air inside so that the bag will expand enough that when being adjusted inside the shelf, only the bag touches everything on the outside, with as little crushing of the chips inside as possible.
Some whole cases of chips do arrive popped on occasion, and the whole case is a total loss. Sometimes, only one or a few will be popped, but not every popped bag is immediately obvious. Some popped bags practically explode chips everywhere inside the case, but others with weaker seals on the bag show signs of only fizzling the air out.
Without the air inside, we would have to spend too much time to search for minor holes the air could have escaped from, if any did, to make sure the seals survived the shipping process. We can instead just gently grasp the bag at the top with both hands to compress the air to detect any leaks, and “damage out” those which feel like they have leaks, without having to visually inspect each one.
4. Shipment Cushioning and
5. Chip Fragility
Different chip brands are more or less fragile than others. The corn chip Fritos are generally a much tougher chip than say, a Baked Lays variety, which is more delicate. For that reason, you’ll find more air inside a Baked Lays bag, than a bag of Fritos, because the sturdier of the chip, the less cushioning they would need to survive the shipment journey and the indiscriminate tossing around of boxes in the backroom by potentially new employees that don’t know any better.
The bag of chips needs to survive the trip from the manufacturing plant, over valhalla-knows how many potholes, speed bumps, tire blowouts, segmented roads, etc, and there’s no packaging around a case of chips than the outer cardboard and the other bags in the case. For that reason, the air inside each bag serves as its own cushioning to prevent the weight of other bags within a case to weigh-down upon another bag, especially when the box might be palletized strangely that make all the other chips in the bag lean into the one on the lowest point. Some large distribution centers will stack boxes neatly in their proper orientation, others just throw a bunch of boxes together in a heap, wrap it the pallet, and ship it.
6. Fitting on the shelf
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.
There is also a trick by some stockers to tip a chip bag upside down, squeeze the bottom portion now filled with air, and then keep it squeezed when turning back upright, in order to fit one more product in a right spot on the shelf without crushing any of the chips inside.
7. The age-range of the buyer
Some chips are 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 running around with it in their hands. The amount of air inside a particular kind of chip that might be otherwise fairly durable, may have more inside it as a preventative cushion from how poorly the product is handled by the potential customer.
For example, Hot Fries. Most (not all) people that buy Hot Fries like Andy Capps or Chesters, tend to be in college or younger and may treat the product a bit more rough than someone who is more keenly aware of budgeting and getting the most out of a purchase, so that amount of air may actually be keeping the product intact despite a kid holding it running around with a bag in their hands.
Other 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. 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).
8. Form Factors And the Absurdity of the “Deception” Claim
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. 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 that, when there are other perfectly reasonable explanations?