Does It Matter If Pringles Are Considered Potato Chips?

Sometimes, it takes the wisdom of a (hypothetical) child to solve a problem bewildering the best legal minds.

According to a 2009 ruling from Britain's Court of Appeal, Pringles are, in fact, potato chips.
According to a 2009 ruling from Britain's Court of Appeal, Pringles are, in fact, potato chips.

One perfect example was a British court case from 2009 in which justices were asked to decide whether Pringles -- those salty, hyperbolic paraboloid snacks -- are potato chips (known as potato crisps in Britain) or something else.

While it might seem like a nonsense question, the answer was worth £100 million (then equivalent to $160 million USD). That was the amount manufacturer Procter & Gamble would have to pay if Pringles were deemed to be potato chips and thus subject to a 17.5% value-added tax (VAT).

The company argued that its tasty treats were made of many ingredients, not just potatoes, and therefore didn't contain enough "potatoness" to merit the potato chip label. For the record, Pringles consist of approximately 42% potato flour.

The case hd already worked its way through the British court system: In 2007, a VAT tribunal decided Pringles were in fact potato chips; in 2008, the High court reversed the decision.

Finally, in 2009, Britain's Court of Appeal took up the case and determined that the only way to decide was to ask a hypothetical 8-year-old child what he or she would call the snack. Needless to say, the imaginary kid crunched the problem and decided that Pringles were potato chips. Ultimately, Procter & Gamble had to keep paying the tax, and the great Pringles debate came to an end.

Interestingly enough, Procter & Gamble sold the Pringles brand to Kellogg's for $2.695 billion USD in 2012.

Digging into Pringles:

  • When Pringles can inventor Fredric J. Baur died in 2008, some of his ashes were put into one of the iconic containers for burial.

  • Procter & Gamble says it chose the name "Pringles" by looking through a phone book for a catchy street name that started with a "P."

  • Pringles go through an intricate production process that requires them to be rolled on a potato sheet under 4 tons of pressure.

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