It's seldom money wasted, because most upstart chip companies make damned good chips. It's not a business people enter unless they're died-in-the-wool spud-ficionados. True believers.
But today I bought some "Billy Goat" chips, which come in an appealing little brown paper sack. system for rating foods from 1 to 10. These were way, way, worse than the most commercial supermarket brands.
I was trying to figure out what I can learn from this experience when I noticed, on the back of the bag, a long list of things these chips are not:
No Trans Fats
....and, presumably, no animal testing, no radioactive fallout, and entirely peanut-free.
When a product's defined by what it's not (and the manufacturer's plainly reaching to come up with stuff to list), it's safe to say the product isn't primarily intended to wow.
I once had a heated argument with a baker of gluten-free desserts. I pointed out that she was essentially putting down her own products by defining them by what they're not...when, actually, they're estimably delicious even for those unaffected by the gluten fad. She couldn't even input my point. Her products were gluten-free, period. That was always her intention, and that's that. Any deliciousness was purely corollary.
This brings me to a seldom-discussed chowhounding phenomena. Every once in a while, someone opens a restaurant parroting someone's disgusting, soulless formula, but the food, almost by accident, is surprisingly good. A plastic, antiseptic, shiny, bullshit place turns out to actually be delicious. The proprietors never imagined marketing on the basis of quality. It never would have occurred to them; that's not their business model. So they pretend to suck, hoping to horn in on the success previous sucky businesses have reaped.
It's extremely easy to overlook such places because we assume imitators of suckiness must stem from the lowest circle of hell in the chowhounding pantheon. What, after all, is more pathetic than a Kenny G clone?
But a Kenny G clone can, I'm forced to admit, move you in spite of himself. And a cookie engineered to be nothing more than gluten-free can wail. And a plastic shiny chain wannabe can be awesome (my fave of the moment: Potatopia).
Anything can be great. But, alas, so can anything - even fried slices of yummy potatoes - suck. It's all in the iteration.