British Court Answers an Eternal Question: How Much Potato Does a Crisp Contain?

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British Court Answers an Eternal Question: How Much Potato Does a Crisp Contain?


No profit grows, Shakespeare once wrote, where there is no pleasure. And so, in the arduous march of life, we find joy in little things: the rising of the sun. A fine glass of wine. The greasy bite of a well-made potato chip.

But soft! Not so fast. Life offers no simple pleasures, and even that delicious crunch brings with it a weighty debate: How much potato is in a true crisp—chips to Americans—?

This – and several other nagging questions from the chip lover – were perpetuated last week by a British tax appeal tribunal, which ruled that Walkers Sensations Poppadoms, the fluffy, non-crispy-looking potato medallions, are in fact the same as potato chips.

This adds to the sacred list of existential nutrition debates whose moral implications far exceed the consumer benefits of their topics. Among other things: Is a Jaffa cake a cake or a cookie? Does a Chicago-style pie count as pizza? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Do you prefer Wawa over Sheetz, or are you wrong?

The ruling means Walkers, the company that makes poppadoms and dozens of other snacks, will have to pay the same VAT on its poppadoms as it does on its various crisps. More importantly, for all people and crunchy loving people, a trial judge has established a kind of dictate that is sure to disproportionately irritate the masses.

“Food is probably one of the most powerful and powerful ways to express cultural identity,” said Dr. Ty Matejowsky, professor of anthropology at the University of Central Florida. Therefore, the court ruling is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on the issue, he said.

The Walkers crisp label bears clear similarities to the American potato crisp brand Lays and Doritos also sells it in the UK. That’s because they are all owned by Pepsico, which retained the Walkers brand name in the UK and Ireland. The label is different, but it is practically the same chip.

A poppadom, an anglicized version of the Indian “papadum,” is a flat, crispy, round flatbread usually made from chickpea flour. Traditionally they are about the size of a tortilla. However, Walkers freelanced the design into a smaller form, more akin to the size of a potato chip, which they introduced in the late 1980s with the help of a Sikh Elvis impersonator.

The Walkers dispute bears striking resemblance to the great Pringles decision of 2008, when a British chief justice ruled that the ubiquitous canned snacks also counted as chips, despite tax arguments to the contrary.

At the heart of the colloquial debate is whether papadums are food or a snack. For purposes of the law, “food” requires preparation and is intended to be consumed as part of something larger. “Snacks” are efficient packages that can be enjoyed on their own. Like a bag of potato chips.

It may sound like a trivial distinction, but when it comes to UK tax law, that’s no small claim. While most food is tax-free, the current VAT rate for snacks such as crisps is 20 per cent, meaning the potential stakes of the Walkers Poppadom game run into the millions.

“It’s a lot of money for the government,” said Dr. Catherine Clarke, Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter. “It’s all really silly. But that’s where we are.”

The ruling is the latest in a years-long journey for Walkers, which has maintained since 2021 that its Sensations Poppadoms are not the same as their crispy potato cousins ​​and should therefore be tax-free like most other foods.

According to Walker’s lawyers, there are many reasons why a poppadom isn’t a chip. First of all, they are meant to be eaten – or you could say prepared – with other things like chutney or dips. And any “normal person on the street” would know that they are not the same. Perhaps most critically, Walkers argued that the types of potato starch and granules used to make the poppy should not be considered potato ingredients by purist standards.

Unfortunately for Walkers, the court remained unmoved by the company’s case. The poppadoms may not contain as much potato as regular chips, the judge said, but the correct ratio of potato to poppadom to chips is in the eye of the beholder.

“The products,” the judge wrote, “obviously contain potatoes.”

It’s a close call – no thanks to Walkers, whose lawyers almost crashed the proverbial poppadom ship. The company argued that many non-potato poppies were exempt from VAT in the UK

But the case, like so many others, failed because of the flesh of the flesh.

“The fact that a papadum made according to a traditional recipe with chickpea flour without potatoes is exempt from VAT for VAT purposes does not mean that a papadum made according to a traditional recipe with potatoes is also exempt from VAT must be done,” said the judge. “The former is not excluded because it is a ‘poppadom’, but because it does not contain potatoes.”

Walkers, which did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling, has eight weeks to appeal. Until then the law has spoken. Spiritually it could be a papaddom. But legally it is – at least for now – a chip.



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2024-01-24 10:08:03

www.nytimes.com