Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who stole Heinz's pickle?

When I was growing up, Heinz Ketchup was a staple food in our house, along with Hellmann's Mayonnaise, Idaho potatoes and round steak ("Ugh" re the latter).

Heinz was the best ketchup on the grocery store shelf -- thicker, more robustly tomatoey than those few other available brands. A slice of fresh Wonder Bread with a dollop of the red ambrosia spread on it made a swell after-school snack. It's still my favorite, but now my old friend is sporting a new look and a new attitude.

Instead of the familiar green pickle on the front label, Heinz Ketchup now sports a tomato on the vine, and a new tagline, "Grown not made." You can still find the pickle; it's moved onto the lid.

Why does Heinz Ketchup need the makeover? The brand seems solid. But in these tight economic times, store brands and less expensive ketchups are eating into Heinz's sales. So what's America's favorite ketchup to do? Obviously, hire a British firm to redesign the packaging and reposition the brand.

The new label's improvements are subtle enough not to confuse customers. The graphic of a pretty tomato on the vine emphasizes the "grown" emphasis in the tagline. I'm puzzled, though, as to how ketchup can be "Grown not made." If anybody figures out how to grow ketchup, s/he'll make a fortune. I also don't know why the Brits put "57 Varieties" right under "Tomato Ketchup," since the phrase refers to Heinz's pickle line, not its ketchup. Seems silly.

Heinz hopes to lure back straying customers with its new "whole foods" or "healthy organic" image (A completely false one, I might add, since all ketchup contains alarmingly high levels of sodium and sugar). Perhaps they think a "whole foods" image will justify its higher price versus competition. But I don't accept the idea. I, like many others, have been buying my second favorite. Maybe the cheaper Brooks Ketchup is "Made not grown," but for my money, on a hot dog it's pretty hard to tell the difference.

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