From hero to number one villain?

Pringles packaging is instantly recognisable and delivers incredible shelf stand-out. It is a case study on how a distinctive pack helps shoppers effortlessly find your brand. Purchased by Kellogg’s in 2012 for $2.695 billion, the Pringles brand has powered the company’s snack business and global reach.

Patented in 1970 the tubular pack and design is an iconic asset. You will see the same format, branding and positioning in 140 countries. Pack creator Dr Fredric J. Baur, in fact, was so proud of his achievement he ensured his ashes were buried in a tube.

But not everyone is impressed with Pringles packaging.

According to Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association the brand is a nightmare and the “number one recycling villain”.

Ellin explains that the combination of a cardboard tube, inner foil lining, metal bottom, foil seal and plastic presents big problems to UK recyclers. This mix of many materials means that the recycling of cardboard results in other content being lost in the process.

This singling out of Pringles appears harsh. The tubes are currently made from 50% recycled material, protect a fragile product, support a shelf life of 15 months and compete with crisp packets that can’t be recycled. Those consumers committed to recycling can also follow instructions to separate pack materials for disposal.

Harsh or not, Pringles is big enough to take some criticism. The Recycling Association’s frustration at the very least challenges owner Kellogg’s (and many others) for innovation that further reduces environmental impact and / or supports easier recycling.

Such improvements, however, are challenging. Pepsico’s withdrawal of compostable crisp packets due to complaints on noise and lost sales shows the big risks involved. It is also a reminder of consumer reluctance to change behaviour or compromise on brand experience for sustainable benefits.

Pringles is a success story built on bold pack innovation. Given the brand’s iconic status perhaps the ambition should be to become a hero for outstanding distinctiveness and sustainability? An ambition I am sure the innovative Dr Baur would approve of.

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