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Do People Really Care About the Ethics of Snack Food Companies?

A recent Frito-Lay report certainly seems to suggest people have opinions about a company's ethics.

Some people want to know the ethics of the company that made their bag of chips while others just want to start munching without all those added details. 

But when it comes to choosing what to buy, a company's sustainability practices and treatment of employees rank above flavor when it comes to what snack food consumers select, according to the most recent U.S. Trend Index done annually by PepsiCo's PEP Frito-Lay.

Say That Ethics And Sustainability Thing Again?

You didn't misread. According to Frito-Lay's annual survey of 2,400 adults, a snack food company's sustainability practices were a top priority for 77% of respondents while innovative flavor was only at 35%.

A further 78% of respondents chose community impact around food access as a top priority while 86% selected the company's treatment of employees. 

Overall, 90% care to some extent about the ethical practices of the company making their snack food while those aged between 18 and 34 are even more interested in ingredient integrity and sustainable production and packaging than their older counterparts.

"While flavor continues to drive consumers' food-purchasing behaviors, we know how a company behaves matters," Mike Del Pozzo, chief customer officer for Frito-Lay North America, said in a statement. 

These types of surveys should not of course, be taken for gospel since they often pit these factors as one or the other.

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Slack Off on Sustainability to Your Peril

But the numbers do clearly show that being unsustainable hurts not just a company's image but also the bottom line. 

While this is a word that is very often twisted and thrown around as a marketing term without making actual changes to lessen one's environmental impact, not doing even that is almost certain to weed out a growing number of customers for whom this is important.

Two-thirds of the respondents said that they want to buy products that offer farmers fair jobs and invest in local communities while 74% are drawn in by products made from recycled packaging or compostable materials.

This could, in some ways, be a way to alleviate the environmental guilt of buying products in single-use packaging.

"We are in the midst of a significant acceleration in public demand for sustainability, and companies that do not meet that demand will quickly fall behind their competitors, especially with young Americans," Pete Davis, chief executive and co-founder of GreenPrint, said in a statement for a separate study that found that 66% of Americans are willing to pay more to know that their product is sustainable.

What Other Chip Flavors Are People Craving?

On a lighter note, another trend noted in Frito-Lay's report is growing demand for flavors that tap several senses at once. About 42% of the respondents prefer combined flavors such as sweet and spicy or tangy and salty over regional flavors (21%) and more exotic international flavors (15%).

Texture, or that crunchy first bite, is particularly important to 21% of respondents while 35% are more drawn in by innovative flavors rather than familiar ones.

"Almost half of all respondents (44%) said trying new snack flavors led them to try more foods with those same flavors while more than half (58%) of 18-34 consumers have eaten more foods featuring a flavor that they had initially experienced in a snack," reads the report.