Pringles was admitted into the pantheon of potato chips yesterday, but Borden's "lite" snack chips nearly stole the show from the Kraft turtle races at Snaxpo '83.
The annual convention of the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association (PC/SFA) is a junk-food junkie's dream, the chip and dip industry's chance to gather to assess new products and equipment.
As the faint but distinct odor of potato chips wafted through the Sheraton Washington, conventioneers looked over snack-making machines ranging from chippers to baggers, gnawed on competitors' products, debated new potato technology and bet on the turtle races while discussing Pringles.
Procter & Gamble Co. stunned the snack food industry a decade ago when it introduced Pringles, a canned potato chip that was not a chip at all but actually a pressed and molded batter of potato flakes created by a process known in the trade as extrusion.
Pringles never caught on with snackers, and PC/SFA didn't take to them much, either. The trade association more or less blackballed makers of Pringles-type products from its membership, which comprises about 500 snack and snack-equipment companies ranging from small family firms to giants like Frito-Lay.
Yesterday, though, PC/SFA relented, and agreed to let makers of extruded snacks join the club.
Don't count out the old-fashioned potato chip, though. Thirteen percent of the nation's entire spud crop is sliced, fried and salted for chips, according to PC/SFA officials, making up a good portion of the $9 billion-plus snack-food business--which is sustaining its annual growth rate of 10 percent in spite of the recession.
But there are some new wrinkles in potato chips, and they aren't just R-R-R-Ruffles.
Borden is showing off a new line of "lite" potato chips and other snacks, an innovation that industry leaders say could sweep the snack-food business in the same way that "lite" beer swamped brewing .
The "lite" chips, which contain less fat and fewer calories, are one way the industry is fighting back against the "junk food" image. The watch-word around PC/SFA these days is nutrition, and the industry is trying to promote "lite" chips, and snacks in general, as something other than greasy, salty things.
The industry is also worried about sodium content, urging manufacturers to voluntarily disclose the salt content of snacks, while simultaneously fighting--through a political action committee called SnackPAC--against forced disclosure.
For reasons not entirely clear, Kraft Inc. was running turtle races in an area called "Capital Downs." Dozens of conventioneers ringed the track--oddly, nobody was selling popcorn to the crowd.