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.

Health Stuff

– 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?)

Sustainability Stuff

– 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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The Tour

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.


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. 🙁


Corn squishing for tortilla making.

tortilla chip making

Uncheesed 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.


Lunch & Learn

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


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


Have I ever mentioned how much I love fresh pineapple?


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


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.

The Mad Dash

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!


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!