• U.S.

MARKETING: Non-Crunch on Pringle’s

2 minute read

What is a potato chip? For more than a century after an American Indian chef named George Crum first deep-fried leaf-thin slices of raw potato in his hotel kitchen in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the answer seemed obvious. Recently, however, the definition of a chip has become controversial. Reason: products like Pringle’s Newfangled Potato Chips, made by Procter & Gamble Co. out of a dehydrated mash of cooked potatoes and marketed in tennis-ball-like cans. Newfangled chips have a long shelf life and can be shipped over long distances without breaking. Put into national distribution this year, Pringle’s has gobbled up perhaps one-sixth of a market estimated at $1.5 billion a year.

The rest of the industry, made up mostly of small, regional firms, contends angrily that the P. & G. product is not a potato chip at all. Some companies, such as Detroit’s Superior Potato Chips Inc., Chicago-based Jays Foods Inc., and Wise Foods of Berwick, Pa. (a division of Borden Co.), have run ads ridiculing Pringle’s as an ersatz product. The Potato Chip Institute International tried to prevent snacks like Pringle’s from being labeled potato chips.

Small Print. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now ruled that “potato chips made from dried potatoes” must be labeled exactly that, and the last four words must appear on the can in type at least half as large as the words potato chip (on Pringle’s cans they now appear in small print easy to overlook). For good measure, the FDA slapped a similar restriction on makers of other “restructured” foods, like fish sticks made from minced fish. To P.&G.’s competitors, it is a hollow victory: Pringle’s, after all, can still call itself a potato chip, sort of. And because the FDA plans to issue some other general directives on labeling in coming months, Pringle’s does not have to change its label until Dec. 31,1977.

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