Few chips were as ubiquitous or well-known in the 90s as Sunchips. This was one of the first chip products that were made to answer the demands of consumers for a more health-conscious chip product. There were oodles of brands out there making flavorful or strangely-shaped chip products that were loaded with sugars and fats. What were you to do if you wanted to avoid all these added negatives but you loved crunchy and salty chip products?
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Enter the Sunchip, made to offer wholegrain goodness along with flavor without all of the unhealthy sugars, salts, and fats. While the reality is that the standards for snack brands in the 80s and 90s were not restrictive enough to create truly healthy snacking options, Sunchips were still healthier than a lot of their competitors, and on top of this perk, they were really delicious!
The Sunchips website proclaims that the company began with a “gonna-rock-your-world idea”. Whole grains have always been at the center of the recipe for these chips, but Frito-Lay wanted to be sure that they were not boring. To add to the fun of eating this healthy chip that still felt decadent, the Sunchips brand was made with a wave pressed into each chip.
Frito-Lay took over ten years to develop this product and spent millions to create the machines to make it. The chip market was well-established by the time they landed on the market, but the company was committed to making sure that wholegrain chips could be delicious, crunchy, and flavorful. Frito-Lay actually conducted more than 10,000 consumer taste tests before they landed on the winning formula, which was then released.
The first Sunchips hit the shelves of stores across the US in 1991. They were stepping into the ring to compete with well-established snacking entities like Doritos, Cheetos, and Bugles. The difference that was offered to those buying Sunchips lay in the multi-grain and healthy recipe of the chips that promised to be heart-healthy and to help you avoid sugar, salt, and fat.
While it is possible that the Sunchips brand was originally envisioned as the first “diet chip” on the market, they were so tasty that they were an instant hit with people of all ages. They actually became the primary choice for a lot of people looking for a crunchy snack that would be flavorful and also healthier than other chips on the market.
Sunchips quickly added new varieties when the original product was such a hit. The bags of these new chip flavors were colorful and fun, and eye-grabbing as compared to the original product, which was wrapped in a staid blue bag. The commercials that Sunchips chose to run for their products made Sunchips synonymous with summer, good health, and playing sports with friends in the sun. It became almost a lifestyle statement to choose to eat Sunchips over other products during the 90s.
There was a brief moment when Sunchips decided to sell Suprimos, which were drum-wheat products with a cheesy coating on them. The chips were not a success, and the company eventually canceled its patent application for that kind of product. The competition from other cheesy snacks was probably already so entrenched that there was never a chance that anyone would give up Cheetos for a drum-wheat cheesy snack.
Over time, Sunchips came under fire for their less-than-healthy ingredients despite the huge claims that the brand made about the healthy snacking choices that consumers were making when choosing Sunchips over other products. The chips are some of the only products on the market to be made with pork fat as well, leading to backlash about this inclusion in a product that some had falsely believed to be vegan.
Sunchips are also fried, an essential step to create the crunch and the wavy texture of the product. This changes the picture significantly once it is announced. This is not something that Frito-Lay ever made people aware of, as they knew that the frying process would cast a shadow over their health-conscious marketing ploy. The fiber content is actually not that much greater than other chip products either, so even this claim is not really accurate.
However, the flavorful nature of Sunchips has always been enough to make consumers shrug and buy another bag of their favorite variety. The modern consumer is pretty aware that any mass-produced food product is likely not truly healthy, and perhaps we are all so jaded now that we don’t bother with the mental gymnastics necessary to consider a chip product healthy. The reality in today’s snack market is that we all know we are snacking and that we could be making healthier choices. It is, therefore, a really good thing that Sunchips have always offered such great flavor varieties since healthy snacking is not really considered a vital area of consumer interest these days like it was in the 90s.
The first bags of these chips were clearly targeted more at the health-conscious crowd. When it became clear that the chips were going to be a big hit with everyone, then the focus of the livery changed completely. Today, Sunchips are synonymous with colorful, fun, playful product design that makes them stand out on the shelf at the store. The bags are color-coded to match the variety, and there are oranges, bright reds, bright greens, purples, and more bright colors used for the backgrounds of the various product bags.
The Sunchips logo is done in a swirling script that turns into an image of the sun that is drawn in cartoon-like lines. This is a nod to the original advertising stating that these chips were “kissed by the sun” and that concept has carried through many of the various livery designs throughout the years.
Most of the product packaging shows an image of the chip and something to suggest the flavor of the product in the bag. This might be a chunk of cheddar cheese or a spring onion, or some other vegetable that is included in the flavor that is contained in the bag.
The bags are also good-sized, which is also a break from the health-conscious bag design that other companies use. You will not notice any difference between the bag size for this product and the chip brands that have been in the chip aisle for longer. This is reasonable if you think about the fact that the product has caught the eye of so many different people who love chips. Making a “diet-sized” chip bag would not make sense, given all the various people who love Sunchips.
The company released a fully biodegradable bag recently, but people complained that it made too much noise. To Frito-Lay’s credit, they did not back off of their commitment to this kind of packaging, and they have released some information that indicates that they are continuing to work on the noisiness of the bags to make sure that they are pleasant to handle and have in your home.
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- Variety Pack Includes (10) 1 ounce Bags of Sunchips Original, (16) 1 ounces Bags of Sunchips Harvest Cheddar, and (10) 1 ounce Bags of Sunchips Original and (14) 1 ounce Bags of Sunchips Garden Salsa
- Single serve packs help with portion control and portability and ensure fresh tasting chips every time
- No artificial flavors or preservatives
- Pack of 104 1 ounce Bags
- Multipack for safe snacking
- 1.5 ounce bags
- Pack of 8
- Garden Salsa
- Harvest Cheddar
- Chili Lime
- French Onion
- Southwestern Queso- made with black beans
- Spicy Jalapeno
- Farmhouse Ranch and Tomato
- Basil and Cheese
- Cinnamon Crunch- limited edition
- Apple n’ Caramel – limited edition
- Honey Graham – limited edition
- Bulgogi – South Korea only
- Sweet Potato and Brown Sugar
- Onion & Thyme- discontinued
- Peppercorn Ranch- discontinued
- Sweet &Spicy BBQ- discontinued
- Parmesan & Herb
- Jalapeno Jack
- Harvest Cheddar 100-calorie mini-Bites
- Spring Herb & Parmesan
- Tomato Basil & Cheese
- Sun Hot Spicy
- Sun Puffs Four Cheese
- Sun Snacks Mix-Ups Apple Cinnamon Multi-Grain Snack Mix
- Sun Bites Biscuit-Seaweed Flavor
- Baja Picante- Limited markets
There are a few different petitions on Change.org related to Sunchips varieties that people want to see revived. Frito-Lay has not commented on any of these requests, and it is not known if they would be open to rebooting flavors that are in high demand. There was a tweet that the company posted a few years ago stating that they could consider selling the much-beloved Sweet Potato flavors again. However, there has been no other update about that statement.
The company teased recently that they were planning some new flavors in 2022, so there might be some new releases just over the horizon that could make new and exciting Sunchips show up on the shelves of stores by you.
From the original recipe on the Sunchips site:
- Whole Corn
- Sunflower and/or Canola Oil
- Whole Wheat
- Brown Rice Flour
- Whole Oat Flour
- Natural Flavor
- and Maltodextrin (Made From Corn)
Each bag proclaims that there are wheat ingredients in the products in the bag. The Southwestern Queso product is also made with black beans as part of the chip itself, so that is a difference from the recipe used here. You can count on this base recipe being the underlying ingredient profile for all the other products in the lineup, however.
|Serving Size:||1 package (28g)||% Daily Value*|
|Amount Per Serving|
- The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Pictures of SunChips
A “Be Your Own Wave” ad:
A classic, artsy, “Live Brightly” ad:
Sunchips ad from the 90s:
My name is Brianna and I love writing on all topics. Candy history fascinates me and I am passionate about sharing my love of this topic with everyone else!
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