Why eating #stormchips says more about your identity than your appetite

Storm chips might just seem like an excuse to enjoy a delicious salty and fatty snack during a snowstorm, but a political sociologist says the phenomenon has much deeper meaning.

Term coined in January 2014 has become part of the Atlantic Canadian lexicon and identity

A Dalhousie University political sociologist says participating in the storm chips phenomenon allows people to tap into a sense of community of being from the East Coast. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Storm chips might just seem like an excuse to enjoy a delicious salty and fatty snack during a snowstorm, but a political sociologist says the phenomenon has much deeper meaning.

"Storm chips aren't just about eating the chips, it's also about being part of the community," said Dalhousie University Prof. Howard Ramos. 

"It's about being able to deploy the symbols and signs that say that you know this inside element of what it is to be a Maritimer." 

The hashtag #stormchips was coined in January 2014 and has become a distinct part of the Atlantic Canadian lexicon and identity.

Ramos, who teaches courses on popular culture and social change, is himself a storm chips enthusiast and enjoys eating them when a heavy dose of the white stuff arrives.

Ramos said after time spent shovelling and being cooped up at home, chips are a "guilty pleasure." They have also become a way of connecting with others through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where people take photos of their chips and write posts about them.

"It allows people to stay in touch and have something that's a common bond," said Ramos.

Even companies are getting in on the phenomenon as a form of marketing. The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation recently had a promotion where a brand of four-litre boxed wine came with free bag of chips.

Even companies not offering chips as a gift with purchase are trying to cash in.

During Monday's blizzard, Ramos said he noticed on social media that storm chips had expanded to other guilty pleasures, such as storm chocolates, storm pizza and storm wine.

Ken Chapdelaine, a district manager with Loblaw Companies Ltd., which includes grocery retailers like Atlantic Superstore, said people stock up before a storm.

"Anything that's probably not the best for you kind of gets hit hard. It's an excuse for adults ... to snack," said Chapdelaine, whose turf covers Halifax up into Cape Breton.

Chapdelaine said people also like picking up things like chicken wings and cookies, but aren't "rushing for the canned tuna."

Grocer says chips sales skyrocket

Chapdelaine, who has been with Loblaw for 25 years, said people used to stock up on bread and milk before a storm, but that's changed in recent years.

The timing coincides with the arrival of #stormchips. Their popularity means if a storm is forecast, Loblaw will bring in more chips to satisfy demand and even open up more shelf space.

"It would not be surprising to see chip sales go up by 50 per cent easy and it could be much more than that to be honest, depending on the storm, depending on the weather, depending on the day of the week," said Chapdelaine.