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Frito Lay: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Posted Aug 17 2010 8:06am

I admit, I was a little shocked when I saw Frito Lay was not only a sponsor of the Healthy Living Summit, but was also offering an activity for attendees.

Potato Chips + Healthy Living = ??

Though I’m all about balance & not ruling foods out, I didn’t quite see the connection.

I went back & forth, and finally decided to participate in the tour of the Frito Lay plant. When I don’t understand something, the obvious solution is to learn more about it. Plus, I love “behind the scenes” activities. ( Beer tours , anyone?)

To be honest, I was secretly hoping I’d find out some astounding health secret Frito Lay was working into their products, but not so much. It was, however, a fun & informative tour, and I’m glad I went. However, I was left feeling like the day was full of contradictions.

- Several of Frito Lay’s “original” products contain only 3 ingredients:  Potatoes, oil, & salt.

- The oils used are heart healthy!  Olive & canola oils aren’t stable enough, but Frito Lay uses a lot of  sunflower oil. A majority of the fat in their potato chips ends up being unsaturated.

- “Healthier” versions are being added to the line up: tortilla chips with whole grains, Sun Chips with extra fiber, potato chips with less salt.

 

The good: No crazy preservatives, chemicals, & fillers in many chips.

The bad: Added fiber comes from “corn bran”, 3 ingredient options only include “original” flavors, little “nutritional” value.

The ugly: Corn, corn, & more corn. Corn bran, corn oil, corn kernels. (Have you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma?)

- The Beloit, Wisconsin plant is Gold LEED certified.

- Frito Lay is working on a “Net Zero” project- how to make their product with having an impact on the earth. (Capturing heat, recycling water, compostable bags, renewable energy, etc.)

The good: Sustainability is pretty much the equivalent of gold. It rocks. Especially when big companies do it.

The bad: Not all of the plants are using all of the sustainability options the company has.

The ugly: Have I mentioned corn? I’m not sure how that’s being factored into the “zero impact” initiative.

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On to the actual tour. Seeing the factory at work makes me wish I had decided to be an engineer. Watching the machines in action was amazing. How cool of a job would it be to design a machine that uses color to identify chips that are too brown for consumption?!

Before we were allowed into the plant, we had to take some sanitization & safety precautions.

Hair nets & lint rolling.

hair nets lint rolling

Goggles & earplugs.

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Ready to hit the factory floor!

frito tour group

Then it was time for some chip action.

frito plant

Peeled potatoes. I wish they’d leave the skin on. :(

potatoes

Corn squishing for tortilla making.

tortilla chip making

Uncheesed Cheetos.

cheetos

Freshly seasoned Cooler Ranch Doritos.

cooler ranch

Doritos hot off the press. (So much better than from the bag. Although I accidently tasted the cheeseburger flavored version- gag.)

doritos hot off the press

Evaluating what makes the “perfect” chip.

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While we lunched, we listened to a Frito filled presentation.

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Lunch was a spinach wrap of marinated veggies, a monster salad, and some fruit.

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Have I ever mentioned how much I love fresh pineapple?

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There were lots of salad topping options: carrots, sprouts, dried cranberries, walnuts, gorgonzola, croutons, and balsamic dressing.

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Health salad balance by yummy treats: a peanut butter cookie & my weakness, Diet Mt. Dew.

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Plus plenty of chip snacks- during the presentation, on the tour, and on the bus.

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These were some of the regional flavors. We tried the Tangy Carolina BBQ & Garden Tomato Basil. I had to toss my NC loyalty aside- I hated the BBQ version, but the Tomato Basil was great.

 

After a 3 hour bus ride [enter unintentional detour here] to the plant in Beloit, Wisconsin, we were hoping for a quick & uneventful trip back to Chi-town —> a cocktail party was awaiting!

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However, no such luck. Chicago traffic had other plans, and eventually it became clear our best option was to debus and hop on the L. 20+ bloggers with overflowing bags of chips rushing through the train station and piling in a single car during train rush hour was quite a sight, but made for a great adventure.

Luckily, we made it in the nick of time. Cocktail party here we come!

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