Some trace the decline of our civilization as we knew it to the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s, while others point to the passage of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), 9/11 or the Wall Street bailout/foreclosure crisis.
I, however, believe it started when snack-food companies decided they could get away with supplying consumers bags of potato chips that are only half-full.
To me, this is a prime example of everything that is wrong with America and our industrial economy. It’s about people being tricked into giving up their hard-earned money for products or services they expect to be of a certain quality, or in this case quantity, and then being grossly disappointed.
An Army is said to run on its stomach, but one thing America definitely runs on is its potato chips. The vast array of brands and types available can take up nearly an entire aisle at a typical supermarket. Go to any picnic, family reunion, church gathering, etc., and there will always be a special place reserved on the table for various chips and dips.
I remember first liking chips as a second-grader in the cafeteria at Stuart, Va., Elementary School while polishing off a bag of Fritos with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (OK, those are corn chips, but that’s a mere technicality.) The point is, I have been addicted ever since.
The practice of companies shortchanging us on the chips was made painfully clear again last week when I encountered what I thought was a good deal at a local grocery store. It was a BOGO (buy-one-get-one-free) sale on a certain brand of potato chips, which is not being disclosed here in order to protect the guilty.
I was excited until ripping open each bag and discovering that both were filled only halfway. So in other words, I had gotten two bags of chips for the price of one, but together their contents only amounted to one bag.
Now, there is no other situation in the marketplace where this kind of practice would be tolerated. Can you imagine paying $20 for gas and getting only $10 worth in the tank? Or forking over a buck for a soft drink with the bottle only half-full?
Consumers would riot in the streets over such developments, but strangely no one seems to complain to any large degree about the obvious scam regarding chips.
I have been told that the reason snack companies don’t fill up the bags all the way is because they want the purchasers to get chips that are not broken into crumbs. The extra space and air supposedly cushions the contents from breakage.
Hmmmm. It’s touching that those suppliers seem to care about us so much — but it automatically makes me suspicious when some business or governmental institution claims to be looking out for our welfare.
Also, I’ve been advised that chips are sold by weight, not volume, so the companies really are providing what they say they are providing.
While there might be some validity to such factors, I think it’s terribly misleading to buyers who think they are receiving a certain amount of a product when they’re not.
The clincher for my allegation of deception is the fact that you can’t see through the bags to determine what you’re actually receiving, and the packaging also is just thick enough to keep one from feeling how many chips are inside.
I’d have a higher opinion of food companies if they put the chips in see-through bags, or else made the packages a little stronger by lining them with bubble wrap or similar material so they could be filled all the way. Of course, that would make chips cost more — which is OK by me since I’d be paying full price for a full bag — no more, no less.
As it is, companies are supplying items that might be barbecue- or sour-cream flavored, but also reek of greed. The least they could do is sell their chips, which are pretty darn expensive in some cases, at half-price.
It’s not that hard to please America’s consumers — all we want is a good product at a fair cost. The problem with chips makes a statement about our overall economy and its periodic failings in this regard. We learned the hard way with our auto industry that if we don’t sell superior goods at a decent price, car makers in Japan and elsewhere will.
If foreign countries had a way to export potato chips to the U.S. which would remain fresh during shipment, I’m sure they would “eat our lunch” in that area, too.
I guess I could wage a consumer protest by learning to make my own potato chips and encouraging others to do likewise. (One source consulted says this is “a tasty and easy alternative to store-bought potato chips” — not to mention economical — which can be done using your microwave.)
Or, our usual chip suppliers could be a little more honest with the products they’re foisting on the innocent public. Common sense and character might be in short supply in this country along with jobs, but deceit on the part of big corporations is always plentiful.
Thomas R. Marshall, who served as vice president under Woodrow Wilson, once made an interesting observation while assessing the economic woes the U.S. was enduring at the time: “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”
I would settle for a full bag of chips.
Tom Joyce is a reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.