The iconic glass Heinz ketchup bottle was a staple in family kitchens around the world. But did you know that H J Heinz pioneered glass bottles in the Ketchup sector? This was primarily to show consumers that there were no nasties in his bottles of Ketchup. Nasties in Ketchup bottles? Really?

Yes, at one point Ketchup did not contain even one tomato. It has its origins in the East and was a fermented mix of Yellow Fish, Shark & Mullet. For more info on this, check out the article here.

Cookbook author, Pierre Blot, used the words “Filthy, decomposed and putrid.”, in 1866 to describe ketchup brands that were available the.

At a time when no one cared about what went into ketchup, H J Heinz was obsessed with purity in his product. He put his ketchup in glass bottles so consumers and shoppers could see how pure the product was.

57 Varieties labelling

You maybe surprised to know that 57 Varieties of Heinz is a work of pure fiction. That is not to say that there aren’t/weren’t 57 Varieties of Heinz. At a time when there were more than 60 varieties of Heinz, HJ Heinz went with 57. There are several sources that claim different reasons one. One claims 57 was H J Heinz’s favourite number. Another claims, 5 was H J Heinz’s favourite and 7 was his wife’s favourite. Yet another source claims that H J Heinz simply liked the look of the number.

But what all these sources agree on is the reason behind placing this at the neck of the bottle. This label was a signpost. Instead of whacking the ketchup bottle on the back of the bottle as many did, which usually did not result in much ketchup, consumers were meant to whack the bottle where the label was placed to get ketchup out.

As you can see, probably not the best solution, but better than whacking the bottle on top.

EZ Squirt launch

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, What the Dog Saw, described the trigger for the research that went into launching squeeze bottles. Heinz had commissioned several studies into how Ketchup was consumed and the consumer persona that consumed the most ketchup. So it was well known that children were their biggest consumer group and one of these user group sessions was a turning point for Casey Keller, a former manager with Heinz.

He was at one of the household observing how people consumed Ketchup. “I remember sitting in one of those households,” Casey Keller, who was until recently the chief growth officer for Heinz, says. “There was a three-year-old and a six-year-old, and what happened was that the kids asked for ketchup and Mom brought it out. It was a forty-ounce bottle. And the three-year-old went to grab it himself, and Mom intercepted the bottle and said, ‘No, you’re not going to do that.’ She physically took the bottle away and doled out a little dollop. You could see that the whole thing was a bummer.” 

Heinz

According to Keller, this was the moment of truth. The average 5 year old consumed 60% more ketchup than the average adult does. And the problem was that the products biggest consumers did not have access to Heinz Ketchup whenever they wanted to consume it. Parents decided how much ketchup their children consumed.

Heinz launched the EZ Squirt bottle as a result. In homes where Heinz in EZ Squirt was used, sales of ketchup increased by 12%.

According to Keller, the innovations in the ketchup space by Heinz “have driven category growth while increasing Heinz’s ketchup sales (by) approximately 7% annually over the past two years, giving the brand a record 60% market share.

“It’s obvious that innovation is the name of the game in this category.”

Launch of the upside down squeeze bottle

However, the Heinz team identified that people were still finding it difficult to get ketchup out of the EZ Squirt plastic bottle.

They often got too little ketchup, but they would just make do with what they had instead of continuing to squeeze to get more. Also, residual bits of ketchup would gather around the nozzle clogging the nozzle toward the end. The Heinz team noticed that consumers often stored their Heinz bottles upside down.

Heinz & consumer centricity

So Heinz launched the upside down squeezable bottles with a valve fitted inside to get the most of the ketchup inside the bottle.

“The upside-down bottle has it all,” said Heinz brand manager Melissa Hill. “It gives an instant flow of ketchup, with no more shaking, complete controllability, and no messy residues on the cap. Squeezing is believing. The valve literally sucks ketchup back up the very instant that squeezing stops.”

As a result, according to CNN, sales of Heinz ketchup in that year rose by 6% when the category itself grew only by 2%.

Heinz continues innovating to meet changing consumer preferences

In November 2021, Heinz announced that they were collaborating with Aptar Food & Beverage to incorporate a new recyclable valve system in their range. As recently as in May 2022, Heinz announced that they were launching their ketchup in a paper bottle made entirely of sustainably sourced wood pulp.

Heinz & consumer centricity

The next 12-18 months will tell how well these changes have been received by Heinz consumers.

If you’d like to read more about how other FMCG companies have approached customer/consumer centricity, check out our blog on this topic.

Published by Veena Giridhar Gopal

After more than 20 years working in the FMCG/retail sector, Veena is now co-founder & CEO of salesBeat. salesBeat has an AI driven platform that uses micro and macro factors to model consumer buying behaviour and makes predictive recommendations of optimal stock levels to FMCG sales people who sell into supermarkets, distributors & wholesalers, ensuring 100% availability of your brands in store and increasing revenues by up to 30%.

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