Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pringles are indeed potato chips......for tax purposes

A British court ruled yesterday that Pringles are indeed potato chips, at least for UK tax purposes. To try to avoid paying the 15% VAT in Britain that is applicable to potato chips "and similar products made from the potato" (but which is not applicable to most other foods), Proctor & Gamble UK decided to go to court to argue, awkwardly, that Pringles are not potato chips because they: (i) contain non-potato flavors, (ii) are less than 50% potato, and (iii) have "a shape not found in nature."

Depite being only 42% potato, the court ruled that Pringles are indeed potao chips, adding in part that this was not an issue for quote unquote "culinary pedants."

What else is in Pringles? corn flour, wheat starch, maltodextrin, emulsifier, rice flour and dextrose, apparently.

Pringles were first sold in the United States in the early 1970s. I remember really liking them (and their weird, space age can) as a kid in the late 70s. But the story of their "invention" is a little unusual. Pringles were created initially not for their taste, but instead in response to a couple of problems that plagued potato chips in general: they tended to get pulverized during shipping when in foil bags, and they tended to go stale quickly after their bags are initially opened. Find solutions, the Proctor and Gamble R&D team was told. And they did.

The can came first. (The inventor of that can was so proud of it that he was apparently buried in one at his request.) Then the R&D team experimented to make a chip that would fit that new can best, with a primary focus on breakability during shipping. They finally settled on the unusual arched shape for that reason. Only then, lastly, did they work on a recipe and cooking method that could produce chips in that shape. And that's how they settled on a "hot dog"-like recipe that, unlike traditional potato chips (which are made from slices of actual potato), involves mixing dried "potato flakes" with the other ingredients that I mentioned above, adding water and mixing into a dough which is then put into a special machine that cuts them and cooks them into "Pringles". (A few other pieces of trivia: (i) that machine was invented by a science fiction author, (ii) the name "Pringles" is just a street in Cincinnati that was chosen merely for its sound, and (iii) contrary to urban legend, the potato flakes are not day-old McDonalds french fries.)

While maybe a little bizarre, when you think about it, the story above makes sense. Consistent with the story of their invention, the taste of Pringles is probably, at best, the third thing that you think about when you think of them.

Below is a You Tube video of a 1 minute commerical for "Pringles newfangled potato chips" from 1973, which emphasizes repeatedly the initial corporate imperatives that led to their creation...

No comments:

Post a Comment