Most consumers rely on trusty Heinz 57 to perk up their hamburger patties, but who is buying the number-two and number-three brands? And why? “It’s mainly price,” says Smith. “The Hunt's and Del Monte varieties have a lower price point than Heinz." The Packaged Facts report backs up his assertion: people with household incomes greater than US$ 100,000 are more likely to use Heinz, while Hunt's is the most often-used ketchup brand in households with incomes less than US$ 20,000.
So, with such one-sided dominance in the category, what type of marketing is necessary for the top brand, as well as for its distant competitors?
"When you're controlling 60 percent of the market, why innovate?" laughs Smith. “Heinz controls the commercial ketchup market in ways that no one else can compete with. Once you get to that point, it doesn't matter if Del Monte and Hunt's advertise their ketchups—Heinz sales actually go up when they do that!"
Most of the marketing and advertising initiatives that have cropped up in recent years have revolved around packaging innovations. In 2002, Heinz and ConAgra both launched their inverted squeeze ketchup bottles—the Heinz Easy Squeeze and Hunt's Perfect Squeeze—in the same week.
Heinz continued pioneering in packaging with its Top-Down and Fridge Door Fit bottles. They reached out to younger consumers as well, with Silly Squirts bottles, designed with different nozzles to let little hands create their own dinnertime concoctions. The company also launched a “Create-A-Label” campaign where consumers could visit Heinz.com to create customized messages, as well as the "Top This” TV challenge that allowed users to compete to create the next Heinz TV commercial.
Hunt’s has tried to keep up in the bottle wars by jumping on the green bandwagon: its 46-ounce bottle recently won an Institute of Packaging Professionals’ sustainable packaging award for its DiamondClear PET construction, which Hunt’s claims makes the bottle 12 percent lighter and more environmentally friendly than Heinz bottles of the same size.
Other recent ConAgra promotions designed to gain visibility for the brand have included its role as an exclusive food sponsor for Six Flags, Inc., which put Hunt’s ketchup front and center on every theme-park fast-food platter to enhance brand loyalty and reach out to consumers beyond traditional media. The Hunt’s brand also took the unusual step of offering "taste guarantee certificates" to consumers: anyone not satisfied with the brand’s new, thicker ketchup can opt for a full cash refund or swap the certificates for a US$ 20 discount on other ConAgra product purchases.
Ketchup’s reputation as the untouchable topper, however, has not gone unchallenged. There was the "salsa scare,"which, depending on which report you’re reading, has seen salsa and ketchup alternate as the number-one condiment in the US.
The nature of the product itself has seen little change over the years, and ketchup continues to tickle the palate by appealing to all five of the basic taste receptors on the tongue: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami—a savory sensation triggered by glutamic amino acid.