What Snack Food Was Legally Barred From Calling Its Product "Chips"?

by LegalFix
Posted: September 7, 2022
consumer goods

What snack food was legally barred from calling its product "chips"?

It may surprise you to hear, but legally speaking, there’s a snack food that is rounded, made with potato-based ingredients, crispy, and delicious, but unfortunately, it’s not a potato chip. Instead, this delectable delicacy is actually the stackable potato-based “crisp”, known as Pringles.

What are Pringles?

Introduced in 1968, Pringles has a unique history that has left this food in a category all on its own. To understand why Pringles can’t be called chips, first, we have to understand what they are. 

On the most basic level, Pringles are thin, distinctively-shaped stackable crisps made from dehydrated, processed potatoes. While “dried potatoes” are the first ingredient listed on the packaging, Pringles are different from other chips, which are usually made from deep-fried (or baked) slices of whole potatoes. Pringles also differentiate themselves from other chips, because they contain corn, rice, and wheat, whereas most chips are only potato-based. 

Why Aren’t Pringles Chips?

Whether or not anything can be called a chip depends on your definition of the word. While it may seem like a small matter, the US government maintains a strict definition of what different words can refer to when in the context of food labeling. These regulations are referred to as “standards of identity”, and apply across a number of areas, including the word “chips.”

 In 1975, the FDA ruled that, because of the fact that they’re not made from slices of potato, Pringles could not be called "chips" unless they issued a disclaimer identifying their dried potato ingredients. To avoid confusion, Pringles instead opted to call their potato-based snacks “crisps,” a word which was not controlled by the same standards.

 Interestingly, this caused the exact same problem to occur in the United Kingdom, where the word “crisps'' refers to what Americans call “chips.” Rather than simply being an inconvenience, however,  Pringle’s developer Procter & Gamble attempted to turn this to their advantage when the British government ordered Procter & Gamble to pay the value-added tax for their potato-based product. 

 P&G tried to argue that Pringles were not chips or crisps and instead made of a combination of potato flour, wheat starch, corn flour, and vegetable oil. The multinational argued that neither the shape of Pringles nor its ingredients were “found in nature”, and the organization should not be forced to pay the potato-based tax. 

 Following years in three different levels of the British judiciary, P&G was ordered to pay $160 million in taxes, and in 2009, Pringles were finally considered a chip – at least in Britain. 

Chip off the Old Block

Laws concerning food laws and their stringent definitions are nothing new. The first documented English food law was established in 1202, and it forbade the adulteration of bread with other ingredients. Today, most food policies in the United States are guided by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Companies still run into food-identity issues in the present day. In 2015, plant-based alternative company Eat Just ran into trouble with its Hampton Creek brand for using the name “Just Mayo” to describe a plant-based food spread. Since most mayos must contain an egg-yolk-based ingredient, the company had to increase the size of the“egg-free” disclaimer on the packaging, reduce the size of the image of an egg they had appearing on their labels, and change the name from mayo to “spreading and dressing”.

With the proliferation of products like dairy-free milk alternatives and plant-based “meats”, understanding these standards is more important than ever before. Even for those not involved in the creation and distribution of food, knowing the laws can be both interesting and practical, helping you navigate the increasingly complex world of food labeling. 

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