In an uncertain world, there always seemed to be a few things you could count on: the sky being blue, grass growing green and ketchup pouring out red.
But the world seems a little less certain today after a jolt from Heinz: The company so thick into ketchup its own logo is red is introducing the unthinkable — green ketchup.
“Green is going to be a shocker for a lot of adults. But kids don’t have those hangups,” said Casey Keller, the point man on a worldwide push to reintroduce ketchup as a hip part of everyday meals for H.J. Heinz Co.
Color of Spinach
The new green ketchup tastes just like the old red stuff, even if it is the color of spinach. Company executives are hoping its unexpected color and plastic bottle, which squirts a stream so thin kids can draw with it, will pack in the fans.
“The core idea is to give kids more control and fun over their food,” Keller said.
Kids do, after all, eat more than half of all ketchup in the United States, he said.
The 131-year-old food company last year embarked on a new ketchup campaign after its share of the U.S. ketchup market dropped to about 43 percent in the late 1990s. Rather than going after adults who buy the ketchup, Heinz targeted teens, pitching it during breaks in shows like Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five and on MTV.
Heinz market share rose to 51 percent, and a month ago the company announced a 5 percent increase in profits for the fourth quarter, due in part to increased ketchup sales.
The new color in its thin-stream bottle is just the latest push.
“We wanted to create something where that bottle is pulled out of the fridge more often,” Keller said.
Several Colors Considered
Heinz’s research with young focus groups found kids would like to see ketchup in some color other than red, so researchers cooked up several varieties.
They tried blue but settled on deep green because “it has a little more kitchen logic,” Keller said.
Tomatoes do come in both red and green. Of course, getting deep green also takes a little food dye.
To facilitate ketchup art for kids, the hourglass squeeze bottle was the answer. It gives kids an easy grip with both hands and the cap that releases the thin stream, like icing for cakes, said Heinz spokeswoman Deb Magness.
“Kids really have a desire to make mealtime more enjoyable, and this enhances the control and fun factor,” she said.
Keeping Products Contemporary
The company also added Vitamin C to encourage parents to buy it.
John McMillin, a food analyst with Prudential Securities in New York, said the product illustrates the company’s effort to be innovative, particularly with an established product.
“It will certainly sell on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “They’re trying to keep the product contemporary to a new generation.”
But red or green, it’s all ketchup to Timothy Hanz, 10, of Pittsburgh. He jazzed up the traditional picnic fare at a photo shoot for the new green ketchup. It will be in stores by October at a price about 20 cents higher than the red stuff.
“A lot of kids are going to love it,” Timothy said. “I told one guy about it, and he’s like, ‘No way!’ I’ll draw stuff with it and eat a lot more ketchup.”