A fat-free potato chip. It’s a dream right?
Being able to feast on delicious snacks with none of those problematic calories attached is undoubtedly too good to be true.
Well, it has been tried – to disastrous effect.
In 1998, Frito-Lay came up with the incredible revelation that fat-free chips (or crisps if you’re in the UK) would be extremely popular with consumers.
The company’s experts were able to come up with versions of Lay’s, Doritos and Ruffles called Wow Chips which they claimed were entirely fat-free.
They contained an ingredient called olestra.
The products exploded, with the company raking in a colossal $347 million in the first few months.
However, on the subject of explosions, there was a fairly considerable side-effect.
It turns out olestra’s molecules are too big to be successfully digested by the human body.
The result? Diarrhea.
And stomach cramps.
So despite the WOW factor (excuse the pun) of 0 fat and just 75 calories in people’s favorite snacks, the side effects were very much a downside of what otherwise seemed a brilliant plan.
By 2000, sales were down to $200 million and the Wow was quietly replaced by “light”.
Lay’s once had the slogan “no-one can eat just one”, but apparently failed to indulge the same thinking when testing its new products.
Surely if its testers were suddenly rushing off to the bathroom minutes after eating their latest product, a few concerns may have been raised.
The FDA also insisted on a warning on the packet, which is not a good look.
Following the rebrand in 2004, executive director Michael F. Jacobson for the Center for Science and Public Interest, summed it up neatly.
He said: “If you’re going to buy Lay’s Light, Ruffles Light, or Doritos Light, you also might want to stock up on Cottonelle, Quilted Northern, or Charmin—and plan not to stray too far from the bathroom.“
“Frito-Lay should have rebranded these chips as ‘OW!’ chips.
“This sudden name change is just a desperate attempt to revive a dying brand. Frito-Lay should have just pulled the plug altogether.”