When I was a kid, I used to love the idea of Pringles potato chips snacks. They were all the same size. They were all the same color. They lasted forever. And they came in a can. The appeal to me, and other snackers, was the consistency and sameness. They were so very different from all of the other “chips” which were all (gasp) in irregular potato shapes in wrinkly foil bags. How did Pringles do it?

Last year, the world learned the reason for this snack food mystery: Pringles are actually not potato chips. They aren’t even mostly potato.

Surprisingly, it was the manufacturer of Pringles making this argument. Proctor & Gamble did not want Pringles to be considered potato chips – or potato crisps – so that the chips would be exempt from the snack tax. The company claimed that Pringles are not potato chips – or even like potato chips – since they are cooked from baked dough and not slices of potato.

The court agreed.

This week, however, a three-judge appeals court, reversed the lower court decision. They declared Pringles a non-exempt snack and therefore, subject to the snack tax.

Proctor & Gamble spokesman Paul Fox did not guarantee another appeal but did say that it is under consideration. He added, “Obviously we’re disappointed with the court’s decision. We’ve always asserted that Pringles should be tested on the same manner as other savory snacks of similar composition.” In other words, those other savory snacks masquerading as potato chips but really not made out of potatos…

In the end, the court ruled that the ratio of ingredients didn’t matter. Even if it’s not really a “potato chip” because of the lack of potato (insert throat clearing here), it’s still taxable.

Does this strike anyone else as odd? It’s a massive case of letting the tax tail wag the dog. Proctor & Gamble is clearly so eager to escape this sales tax that they’re willing to parade their “snacks” in public as a potato chip substitute. We now know that there is only about 40% potato in the “chips” – and that is potato flour. In fact, counsel, noting that the chip was mostly flour, fat and other ingredients, claimed:

If a product has a number of significant ingredients it cannot be said to be ‘made from’ one of them.

Ewww.

I don’t know about you but this seriously decreases the chances that I’m picking up a bag can of potato flour snacks at the market for the holiday weekend.

If you say potato, I say give me an actual potato.

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Author

Kelly Erb is a tax attorney and tax writer.

Comments

  1. This was a seriously bad PR decision for P&G. In order for the public to feel good about buying all sorts of non-foods, we have to be able to pretend we don’t KNOW they are not really assaults against nature. I’m not sure what people thought Pringles were made of, but denying them a place in the potato family tree seems bizarre. It’s very Maury….”As to the parentage of the child Pringles: Potatoes, you are NOT the father!”

  2. Ron Hassett Reply

    It is amazing the lengths corporations will go to avoid taxes even to the extent of “outing” their own product. It kinda makes you wonder the extent of financial gymnastics they go through to avoid taxes on issues that are not so obvious. A national sales tax or value added tax to replace the monstrous antiquated income tax is sounding better all the time.

  3. If you think fat and flour is gross you’ll have to give up bread. And gjve up going to restaraunts. As a chef I can attest to the fact that nearly everything that tastes good ahas flour and fat cooked into it some way.

    • Oh, I enjoy fat and flour in bread. 😉 Only then, I just call it bread. I don’t call it potato chips.

  4. When I was little, I used to think they are made from potato, but when I was older, I started to think that it wasn’t possible to get those perfect cuts and shapes from real potato, so it must’ve been made from some kind of flour. However, I am still surprised to see how little potato is in the dough.

  5. Excuse me — but aren’t Pringles a “snack” the same as “real” potato chips, Cheetos and Hershey Bars? What, indeed, is a “snack”? Anything that isn’t a “meal”, or a main course in a genuine meal?

    I’ve got an idea — instead of taxing “snacks” and such, why not tax the “undesirable” ingredient in foods? For example, a tax of x per gram of trans-fat, y per gram of saturated fat, z per gram of sugars, etc etc. $10 for a quarter-pounder, $2 for a salad with nonfat dressing. And they pay you $1.00 for eating eggplant.

  6. I think they might qualify as well as ‘corn chips’ as they do as potato. I believe that’s maize flour they’re using.

  7. This reminds me of the recent increase in the tax on cigarettes. There are some tobacco companies marketing roll-your-own tobacco and labeling it “pipe tobacco” to escape paying the high cigarertte tobacco tax.

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