My Potato Chip Taste Test: Are Lay’s Really Worth Paying More For?

Potato chips are big business. According to AIB International, over $7 billion of the salty snacks were were consumed in 2009.

It’s been reported that over 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips are consumed annually; I know I’m probably good for ten pounds a year all by myself.

I bet most of you are too. Don’t deny it.

A Brief History of the Potato Chip

As legend has it, the first potato chip — known as a “crisp” in Great Britain and Ireland — was born way back in 1853 at a restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York by an exasperated Irish chef named (somewhat appropriately) George Crum who created them in response to a hard-to-please customer who kept sending his french fries back because they were too thick and soggy.

The resulting “Saratoga Chip,” as it was originally called, soon became a wild success. Even so, potato chips could only be found in restaurants until the turn of the 20th century, when they finally began showing up in stores for home consumption — although they were essentially unsalted due to manufacturing technology limitations. In fact, seasoned potato chips as we know them today did not hit the market until the mid-1950s.

How the Test Was Conducted

As I did with last year’s popular ketchup taste test, as well as most of my other taste test experiments, I recruited a bunch of family members to be an expert panel — this time there were 11 chippy human volunteers.

As usual, my dog, Major, was also included in fun. (Hey, he’s family too, folks.)

With the panel in place, I placed chip samples in separate bowls. To ensure the taste test was a blind comparison, the samples were simply marked ‘A’ through ‘C.’

Scoring was simple. The experts were asked to rank each potato chip solely for taste, from best to worst, with three points for the top performer and one point for the worst. The panel was also free to note any accompanying comments they had regarding each sample.

The Expert Panel

Before we get to the results, let’s once again meet our distinguished panel of experts:

Doris

Aunt Doris
Birthplace: London, England
Age: Ninety-something.
Most money ever found: £20 (Presumably in a London bomb shelter.)

DadDad
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 74
Most money ever found: a half-dime (No, really.)

Tony
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut
Age: 68
Most money ever found: $350

.

Mom

Mom
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 71
Most money ever found: “a penny” (If you were anybody else, Mom, I wouldn’t believe it.)

Kevin

Kevin
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 59
Most money ever found: $500

Chris

Chris
Birthplace: Hemet, California
Age: Classified (but if you’re interested, it’s on WikiLeaks).
Most money ever found: $20

Honeybee

The Honeybee
Birthplace: Whittier, California
Age: 43
Most money ever found: $20

Evan

Evan
Birthplace: Escondido, California
Age: 33
Most money ever found: Declines to state. (Actually, he’s afraid the IRS will tax him retroactively.)

Mark

Mark
Birthplace: Escondido, California
Age: 31
Most money ever found: $1

Matthew

Matthew
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 14
Most money ever found: $35

Nina

Nina
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 12
Most money ever found: $10

Major1

Major
Birthplace: Julian, California
Age: 8
Most money ever found: 2 bones

.

Introducing The Potato Chip Competitors

Upon entering my local supermarket’s potato chip aisle, the cornucopia of potato chips available for purchase immediately struck me; when you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to take such a large assortment for granted. Anyway, in addition to the traditional bags of salted fried spuds, there were also potato chips with ridges and so-called “kettle” chips, all in a myriad of flavors like barbecue and sour cream & onion.

For this taste test, I only wanted to compare traditional salted potato chips sans ridges. Ironically, the grocery store’s chip collection was so large that my selection for that specific variety was limited to two brands: the premium brand Lay’s, and — at half the cost — a bargain-brand distributed under the Shopper’s Value label. So to round out the experiment, I ran down to my local Trader Joe’s and picked up a bag of their store brand potato chips.

Without further ado, here, in reverse order, is a summary of the potato chip taste test results, based upon the inputs of my expert panel:

3. Shopper’s Value Potato Chips

Price per ounce: $0.19
Panel Scoring: 22 points
Average Score (3-point scale): 1.8
Human Judges Who Deemed Them the Best: 1

As the survey’s bargain-brand chip, the Shopper’s Value entry didn’t come in with high expectations. That’s probably a good thing considering the comments from the majority of my expert panel. Aunt Doris thought the Shopper’s Value chips were “light and tasty,” and my son, Matthew, noted they had a “nice yellow color” — but it was all downhill from there. Kevin and Chris described them as being “ordinary” and “salty,” respectively. Mom thought they tasted “stale.” My dad was even less impressed; he decried them for their “bitter” flavor. Tony said the bargain brand chips were just “blah,” and the Honeybee agreed, opining that they “lacked flavor.” Don’t tell that to the dog — judging from his reaction, those chips tasted better than a bacon-wrapped filet Mignon.

2. Trader Joe’s Potato Chips

Price per ounce: $0.20
Panel Scoring: 23 points
Average Score (3-point scale): 1.9
Human Judges Who Deemed Them the Best: 3

When it came to the Traders Joe’s brand, the opinions of my expert panel ended up being a mixed bag. Mark thought the Trader Joe’s chips had “the best balance of salt, potato flavor and crunchiness,” and Chris agreed, saying that the flavor was “just right.” Matthew also gave them a thumbs up for having a slightly thicker cut compared to the other two brands. The Honeybee thought they were “good, but not great.” Still, the Trader Joe’s brand had its detractors. Tony said they were “dry,” while Dad dinged them for being “bland.” Kevin lamented that were too “Pringle-like” but surmised that because they “tasted the worst” they were also most likely the healthiest. My daughter, Nina, disliked them because they were “too thick” and Mom thought they were “too salty.” I’m sure saltiness wasn’t a problem for Major; after all, seasoning isn’t an issue for those who inhale their food.

1. Lay’s Potato Chips

Price per ounce: $0.41
Panel Scoring: 30 points
Average Score (3-point scale): 2.5
Human Judges Who Deemed Them the Best: 7

Without a doubt, this was the overwhelming favorite of the expert panel. In all, the Lay’s brand chips received seven first place votes. The consensus was so strong that only two panelists felt the premium brand chip was, well, crummy. Chris gave Lay’s demerits for blandness and Mark for excessive seasoning and oiliness — but those opinions were clearly in the minority. The Honeybee thought the chips were “crisp and tasty.” Both Kevin and my mom lauded the premium-brand chips for being “light” and “crispy.” Nina summed things up by noting that the Lay’s were “yummy!”

The Moral of the Story

I think this taste test experiment answers the question as to how Lay’s stays competitive in a crowded market despite costing up to twice the price of rival potato chip brands: when it comes to potato chips, it appears you get what you pay for.

As far as my expert taste test panel is concerned, the premium-brand Lay’s potato chips are clearly worth their salt.

Photo Credit: star athena



Comments

  1. 1

    Kelli says

    Enjoyed the article! I’m with Nina on the Trader Joe chips. My family likes them a lot, but I’m not a big fan because I prefer my potato chip to be lighter tasting. Always have.

    • 2

      Len Penzo says

      I loved those Trader Joe’s chips! They were my favorite of the three (the Lay’s was my least favorite). I actually thought T. Joe’s had just the right amount of salt and I liked the slightly thicker cut.

    • 4

      Len Penzo says

      I really like kettle chips too. I was on a big kettle chip kick for the longest time until a few months ago when I started to get a bit burnt out after eating so many of them. Now I am back to the regular kind.

  2. 7

    Jake the Snake says

    Lay’s? Are you kidding? I guess there the best if you like a lot of grease and salt. Nobody can beat Zapp’s!

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      I never heard of Zapp’s. I’m assuming they’re a regional brand?

      As for the Lay’s chips, I’m pretty much with you. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat them if you put them in front of me (LOL), but my biggest complaint is they tend to be overly salty.

  3. 10

    says

    Awesome taste test Len. I don’t actually like chips a whole lot in general but will eat them once in a while and then eat a whole lot! My faves are McCoy’s salt and vinegar crinkle cuts which I think are made by Lays (called Walkers in UK).

    • 11

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you , Forest. I know Walker’s and Lay’s are one in the same.

      The Honeybee likes salt and vinegar potato chips too. Not me — my taste buds just can’t seem to reconcile the simultaneous presence of sour and salt.

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      I was on a recent business trip and the hotel restaurant served their own homemade potato chips that they served warm with their meals.

      They were DELICIOUS! Man, my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

  4. 14

    Todd says

    I vote for Tim’s “Cascade Style” potato chips. My local grocer only carries the niche flavors, though; I’ve always woncered if Lay’s blackballed the plain variety.

    • 15

      Len Penzo says

      I was going to ask where you find Tim’s potato chips, but I decided to “get off my butt” and do a Google search: The Tim’s website says they are available in “convenience stores throughout 11 western states, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada.” (Interesting — if Alaska and Hawaii aren’t western states, what are they?)

      I live in California and I’ve never heard of Tim’s potato chips.

      I also googled Zapp’s (which was mentioned by Jake) and those are made in Gramercy, Louisiana. It appears as if their distribution is regional too.

      Anyone else care to volunteer their favorite potato chip brand? I’d love to hear about them — especially if they are regional.

      • 16

        Todd says

        Len, I live in Northern Califronia and they’re around, if not nearly as common as Lay’s.

        They sometimes serve them on Alaska/Horizon flights as well.

  5. 17

    says

    Len, as an employee of one of the potato chip companies involved in the taste test, I sure am glad the best brand of all time won out.

    Now, why don’t you go out and buy about 19 bags of Lay’s. Don’t worry about the flavors, they’re all good.

    • 18

      Len Penzo says

      LOL! Don’t worry, Nelson; I bet we buy a couple dozen large bags of Frito-Lay brand products every year.

      One thing: Can you do me a favor and talk to your CEO, the Frito Bandito, and ask him to tone down the salt on the Lay’s?

  6. 19

    DC says

    Off topic. If your Aunt Doris found £20 during the Blitz, that was a lot of money!

    Assuming 1 shilling in the 1940′s had about the same purchasing power as, say $2 today, then finding £20 would be equivalent to finding about $800 today (pre-decimal 20 shillings = £1). Way to go Aunt Doris!

    This is based on very rough guess work, assuming a hamburger and fries (no drink), about a $5 value, would be about equivalent to buying fish and chips. How much did fish and chips cost at the time? Maybe 2/6 (2 shillings 6 pence)? Aunt Doris may recall.

      • 21

        DC says

        Was I not clear? I am converting 1940′s pounds into 2012 dollars.

        During WWII, the exchange rate of dollars to pounds was £1 = $4.03, making £20 = $80.60 in 1940′s dollars.

        In the 1940′s, a hamburger and fries would cost less than 50 cents. A hamburger and fries costs a good 10 times that today.

        So £20 in the 1940′s is worth about $800 (more or less) in today’s dollars, making Aunt Doris the winner of “most money ever found.”

        • 22

          DC says

          Doh! There needs to be an edit/cancel button. It finally dawned on me what you were saying just as I hit “submit.” Then I’m trying the browser “stop” button, but too late.

          So what Aunt Doris really found was about £2, not £20? Darn!

    • 25

      Len Penzo says

      I know. But I’m one of those morons who eats without regard to health implications. I figure it ain’t worth sacrificing the joys of eating unhealthy food if for no other reason than because any potential additional life span afforded to me by healthy eating will be tacked on at the end of my life, as opposed to now, when I am young enough to really have fun.

      If they ever learn to reverse the extra-life payout in that regard, then I’ll make the sacrifice! :-)

  7. 26

    Againstthegrain says

    I don’t bother with packaged potato chips, as they are always fried in deodorized but still rancid commodity seed oils, which is anything but healthy, and not even tasty.

    Homemade chips fried in grassfed beef tallow or free-range pork or goose lard are the BOMB and the only chips worth eating.

    And don’t swallow that USDA, AHA, & FDA nonsense about high PUFA seed oils being healthier than saturated animal fats. It simply isn’t true; in fact, the opposite is true – but there’s a lot of GMO rapeseed (canola), corn, soy, cottonseed oils and other waste products out there to sell to the gullible masses…

    • 29

      Len Penzo says

      I’ve heard of Utz but never tried them, terri. Next time I’m in the neighborhood I’ll try ‘em out.

      When I was a kid, I remember eating Wise potato chips when we used to visit my relatives in Ohio. I just can’t remember if they extraordinary or just good.

  8. 34

    Dana says

    Kettle chip girl forever!

    Did my own experiment with Sharp Cheddar Cheese recently. We eat tons of it in my house and I recently got a great deal on Kraft cheese (coupon+store sale, thank you very much!) I usually buy the Publix store brand and love it, but thought I’d give the Brand a try since it was a better deal that day.

    …..does anybody out there want some crappy, tasteless cheddar cheese?

    BTW, there’s nothing SHARP about Kraft Extra-Sharp cheddar. I think I’ll be returning to my better (and cheaper) favorite.

    • 35

      Len Penzo says

      Interesting, Dana. My experience has been the opposite: that name brand cheeses tend to taste better. But everyone is different.

      Maybe you can donate the extra cheese to a homeless shelter?

      I like kettle chips too! Love that extra crunch factor!

    • 36

      tommyboy says

      I AGREE!!! Kraft cheese is horrible! We prefer the (local) Kroger brand cheese by far (my daughter is a cheezaholic!)

      As the taste tests have found, often cheaper tastes better!!

  9. 37

    says

    I haven’t tried the other two brands you mentioned, because I don’t think they’re sold here in Canada, but chips are definitely one of the few things that I won’t buy a store brand of. (Others being baked beans, cheerios and ketchup. I don’t know why. They just taste word!) The crappier versions just aren’t even worth my time. And especially since it’s junk food, I’d rather pay more and eat good chips less frequently, than pay less and eat more than I should.

    • 38

      Len Penzo says

      Heinz ketchup or bust for me. I’ve done a store-brand vs. name-brand cereal taste test but it was with kids’ cereals. The kids were all over the map with that one.

      As for the baked beans, I’ve never bought store-brand before.

      You know, baked beans — and possibly cheddar cheese may be on deck for my next family taste test challenge, Melissa! :-)

  10. 39

    Robert Qualls says

    Wise is widely available in the Upper South now, as well as the Midwest. Trust me, you remember good, not great

  11. 40

    says

    I love potato chips, my favorite snacks since I was little. I remember even spending my 1 week allowance in 1 day…spent it all in potato chips. I wish I were a member of the panel.

  12. 42

    nick scott says

    shoppers value WAVY potato chips are the best chips out there! THEY HAVE TO BE THE WAVY NOT CLASSIC! lays no way. jays used to be the best until they were bought out by snyders.

  13. 44

    tommyboy says

    Better Made chips made in Detroit for our local area blow Lays out of the water! The only Lays chips I’ll buy are the Honey BBQ. Lays regular chips are way too greasy!

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