Journalist and author Eleanor Foa Dienstag joins Tim to tell the story behind the humble Heinz Ketchup bottle in our fridge, its journey to our hearts and homes, and the people who made it one of the most iconic food brands in America.
We spend this episode with a focus on the history of one of America’s most iconic condiments, Heinz Ketchup, which was a big part of a corporate history Eleanor once wrote for the Heinz Company. Her book was called In Good Company: 125 Years at the Heinz Table. Our discussion explores how the evolution of ketchup has followed step-by-step with American business, culture and society, food trends, and marketing.
When people think of ketchup they think of Heinz; when they think of Heinz, they think of ketchup, but it wasn’t always that way. The change occurred over many decades but accelerated from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Ketchup remains one of the most broadly used products in the grocery category, found in over 97 percent of all U.S. households and four out of five restaurants.
Heinz is the world’s largest buyer of tomatoes. 2 million tons per year. Heinz sells 11 billion ketchup packets per year.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece in 2004 for The New Yorker where he described how Heinz became dominant in the ketchup market by focusing on all five of the condiment's flavor attributes.
It used to be just a salty and bitter, but then Heinz increased thickness, increased the sourness with acidity from concentrated vinegar; and the company doubled the sweetness.
The History of Heinz Ketchup
Ketchup was invented in 1876. Do you know who invented it and how it came to be part of Heinz’s early product mix? Before Heinz, it was largely considered a home-made concoction you’d make in your kitchen.
The Heinz company was launched seven years later, and ketchup was one of its first products.
Ketchup was on of the first bottled products, along with horseradish, pickles, mustard and vinegar.
The company introduced its iconic octagon glass bottle with its keystone label and neck band around 1900.
Heinz had an obsession with efficiency and quality, so it decided the best way to make the best processed food was to locate production near quality farmland, so the ketchup plant is right next to the fields where the tomatoes are grown.
Marketing: When Last was First
From the 1960s through the 1980s, Heinz Ketchup went from just another condiment to a mainstay in the American diet through improvements on the agricultural front, technological front, but also in the area of marketing.
Ketchup only had 23.6% of the market in the 1960s, comparable to Hunt’s. Both companies had deemed the tomato ketchup category "mature."
Then Heinz recruited talent and some strategies from Procter & Gamble.
Heinz lowered ketchup's price slightly, introduced a television advertising campaign, and it added a 26-ounce “Ketchup lover’s ketchup” with a wide-mouth bottle, which created more shelf space in grocery stores.
Much of this was an outgrowth of a decision Heinz made to hire ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.
These strategies led to immediate growth in Heinz ketchup sales. While the company had to remove the wide-mouth ketchup bottle from the market over product quality issues, the growth trend had begun.
The company had done focus groups with consumers, taking a page from Procter & Gamble marketing, and found consumers wanted thicker, richer ketchup.
The television spots illustrated this through comparison advertising, showing how Heinz ketchup "lost" a race to see which ketchup would run out of the bottle fastest. A companion ad showed how Heinz Ketchup stayed in place on a paper plate, while a competitor brand ran off the plate, creating a liquidy mess. Sales climbed.
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