History of Sun Chips


© History Oasis

The history of Sun Chips has intersected with seismic global events over the iconic snack brand's 30-year trajectory, from the fall of the Soviet Union shortly before its 1990 launch to the coronavirus pandemic that fueled its resurgence in sales.

First introduced in 1991 amidst shifting attitudes towards health consciousness, Sun Chips has harvested cultural staying power across generations—weathering technological disruption, economic fluctuations, and changing consumer tastes by remaining rooted in its wholesome multigrain origins yet continuously adapting with the times.

As society has transformed dramatically, Sun Chips have been a crunchy constant, providing nourishment and comfort from the dawn of the internet age through unprecedented upheaval in 2020s America.


Sun Chips original flavor ad
Source: Frito-Lay

As the health food movement began gaining momentum in the late 1980s, snack food giant Frito-Lay took note.

Seeking to capitalize on consumers' shifting preferences, Frito-Lay (PepsiCo subsidiary) developers got to work formulating a snack that would satisfy the craving for junk food while also appealing to emerging nutrition concerns.

After months spent tinkering with recipes and testing focus groups, the company finally struck gold. They launched Sun Chips in 1991—funneling extensive marketing resources into positioning it as a wholesome, multigrain snack.

"Harvest Cheddar, "French Onion," and other flavor varieties evoked the earthy simplicity of freshly picked vegetables. Sun Chips were a hearty contrast to Frito-Lay's traditional greasy potato chips, while still leveraging the satisfying crunch that had made the brand famous.

The gamble paid off.

Sun Chips flew off shelves, raking in millions for Frito-Lay within the first year while also burnishing the company's image.

Critics within the food industry who had dismissed the health food movement as a passing fad were forced to reconsider their stance.

Within a few short years, Sun Chips had become a cornerstone of Frito-Lay's product lineup—one that would be widely imitated but never quite matched.

Nearly 25 years later, Sun Chips continues adapting to the evolving nutrition science and consumer preferences that birthed it—a pioneering giant still harvesting rewards from the multigrain seeds it planted at the dawn of the 1990s.


the many flavors of sun chips ad
Source: Frito-Lay

When Sun Chips first launched in 1991, the brand chose an initial flavor lineup meant to evoke the essence of garden bounty and Midwestern comfort.

"Original" embodied the pure, unadorned taste of crispy multigrain, while "Harvest Cheddar" suggested the rich, full-bodied flavor of aged cheese rounding out freshly harvested corn.

"French Onion" carried savory undertones of the caramelized allium bulbs that have graced patisseries and pubs for centuries past.

And Chili Lime, Garden Salsa, and Sweet & Spicy BBQ offered Southwestern spice blends trending rapidly across American palates in the 1990s.

This core foundation of six flavors would remain unchanged for over two decades as consumers fell into rituals around their Sun Chips preferences week after week, year after year.

But in 2016, seeking to court the connected, health-conscious Millennial demographic, Sun Chips developers got to work crafting two new "Veggie Harvest" varieties—Farmhouse Ranch and Tomato, Basil and Cheese.

These offerings augmented the original vegetable themes with even more elaborate whole food fantasias centered around fresh-picked produce from sustainable family farms.

By leveraging the power of storytelling around intentional ingredients and planet-friendly agriculture, the Veggie Harvest line successfully renewed relevance and reached new levels of sales with modern snackers.

In Sun Chips' quarter century trajectory, the brand has shown a knack for knowing exactly when to harvest and distribute new flavor infusions while still remaining faithful to the all-natural, multigrain roots that made it an icon.


Limited edition flavor of Sun Chips ad
Source: Frito Lay

While Sun Chips' core flavors have remained anchored for decades, the brand has frequently experimented with limited-batch seasonal infusions to generate excitement.

In 2007, they dabbled in the ultra-trendy cinnamon genre that dominated the latte menus and dessert menus of that era with a Cinnamon Crunch edition.

Cashing in on sweet and salty cravings, Sun Chips rolled out Honey Graham and Apple 'n Caramel varieties in 2009.

Though available only temporarily, these short-lived flavors made savvy plays off America's insatiable hunger for innovation in snacking.

Internationally, Sun Chips formulations cater to regional tastes even more directly. The bulgogi variety introduced solely in South Korea speaks to a uniquely Korean palette for marinated, grilled meats.

With globalization exposing consumers to wider arrays of flavors from around the world, Sun Chips has continually harvested new ingredient inspiration.

Yet while special releases come and go, for over 30 years discerning snackers have returned reliably to the buried treasure of original Sun Chips flavors unearthed back in 1991.

The brand continues planting experimental new flavor seeds in different soils, but always with an eye towards maintaining the core crops that have yielded an enduring multigrain empire.


plant based packaging
© History Oasis

As the eco-friendly ethos of the 2000s gathered momentum, SunChips sought to bolster its all-natural image by getting ahead in sustainable packaging.

In 2008, the brand made waves debuting a bag made entirely from plants—a compostable vessel that would biodegrade quickly rather than clogging landfills with plastic waste.

SunChips reaped glowing press and acclaim from environmental advocates for this innovative move.

However, a major problem soon cropped up amplifying their green credentials into a glaring public relations headache.

The compostable plant bag turned out to be obstreperously noisy—crackling loudly whenever customers reached into it.

By 2010, a barrage of complaints over the intolerable decibel levels forced SunChips to scrap the bag altogether.

After returning briefly to conventional plastic, SunChips launched a comeback in 2011 with a revised "quieter" plant-based bag intended to deliver environmental integrity without aggravating noise pollution.

This time, tweaking the glues and polymers to minimize sound, they nailed the execution—proving with perseverance that sustainability need not come at the expense of customer satisfaction.


Sun Chips ad
Source: Frito-Lay

After reaching meteoric heights in the 1990s and early 2000s, SunChips hit a few fallow seasons around the early 2010s.

Sales declined steadily year-over-year between 2011-2014, suggesting the brand had lost resonance with contemporary snackers.

Perhaps the novelty of multigrain had worn off, or maybe innovative competitors had surpassed SunChips with even healthier formulations.

Yet like hardy crops rotating through seasons of drought and abundance, the iconic snack brand rediscovered its roots.

In early 2023, SunChips began harvesting double-digit revenue growth for the first time in over a decade.

Boosted by nostalgia trends and universal pantry-stocking during the pandemic, SunChips leaves and grains once dismissed as stale were reappraised as cultural comforts.

Leaning into its heritage while updating recipes and flavors for modern palates, SunChips is experiencing a renaissance today—poised to churn out crunchy yields for years to come by sowing its timeless qualities seamlessly with the zeitgeist.

The brand that germinated 30 years ago from multigrain seeds has matured into an enduring and evolving snack staple for each new generation.