Heinz & consumer centricity

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.

Internet and its influence on sales

On 12 March 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for the World Wide Web.

Sir Berners-Lee proposed a way of structuring and linking all the information (like a web) available on CERN’s computer network that made it quick and easy to access. This concept of a ‘web of information’ would ultimately become the World Wide Web.

The launch of the Mosaic browser in 1993 opened up the web to a new audience of non-academics. By 1995, the internet and the World Wide Web were established phenomena. In 1995, the Internet had less than 40 million users globally. In contrast, Facebook had 2.9billion monthly active users in January 2022.

While in its early days, the internet was structured on the basis of decentralisation (think p2p file sharing sites like Napster), these days, most use the internet for social media (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok etc), entertainment (think Netflix, Spotify) and for updates on current events, whether fake or not.

Why are we blogging about the internet today?

The internet has had an outsized impact on sales and predictability of sales since inception. While its early (negative) impact was on sales of music, books and movies, due to sites like Napster and Bittorrent, its later impact was on sales of consumer goods, both every day and luxury. This is largely due to social media.

Current events(‘news’) have always influenced our buying decisions. Prior to the advent of the internet, this was restricted to watching the news once a day or to the daily newspaper. So the influence was sporadic. These days, there are several websites (some legitimate, some not), that people can go to for their current events update. This has made the world a lot smaller and influences choices.

Influencers

Influencer marketing has been around since Roman times, when gladiators endorsed products (Source: Forbes.com). According to Forbes.com, the first well known influencer collaboration was when Thomas Wedgwood made a tea set in 1760 for the wife of King George III and marketed his brand as having ‘royal approval’.

In the early 2000s, mommy bloggers were the influencers sought out by various brands to popularise and talk about their products. But the term ‘influencer marketing’ was popularised by social media.

Social media

Of all the websites and apps on the internet, social media has the biggest impact on sales. This is not just owing to the influencers on the internet and what they post, but also due to what regular people like you and me post. With content now going ‘viral’, it is viewed not by 100s of thousands of people, but a few million or billions of people.

In June 2021, Musk tweeted a heartbreak emoji and a Linkin Park referenced meme while talking about Bitcoin. The result: The price of Bitcoin dipped 3.6%.

Another, rather infamous twitter post, was by Weetabix and Heinz. The post was polarising enough that other brands, retailers and even foreign embassies got in on it. Within just a week of posting this, Weetabix sales was up by 15% in Sainsbury’s alone (Source: The Grocer)

Increased information on brands/companies

As information has become the new currency of today, any actions taken by companies are fodder for news, which eventually makes its way to social media.

With Gen Z & Millennials now forming the bulk of shoppers and given how their views on purpose have influenced how Gen X and Baby boomers think about consumption choices as well, this increased availability of information has the power to change brand preferences, based on the information on decisions taken by these companies.

Following the start of the conflict in Ukraine, when Unilever, Pepsi & Coca Cola did not initially pause Russian operations, consumer responses influences sales enough that they then decided to pause operations in the country.

How can sales people predict changes in preferences and prepare for it?

  • Make it a point to stay updated on current events through legitimate sources.
  • Check social media sites regularly to keep an eye on what posts are trending.
  • If your view or preference has been impacted by a particular event, news or a social media post, you can be sure that there are several more whose preference has changed as well.
  • Join different social groups and ensure you regularly talk to people across different generations. Each generation reacts differently (or does not react).

People have always been influenced by the opinions of others. This has been so since times immemorial. Technology has magnified this and will continue to do so as people search for human connection on the internet instead of ‘in real life’.