Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, has a web site where he includes his published New Yorker articles. One of my favorites is an article discussing why gourmet ketchup never took off like gourmet mustard did.
The gourmet story is a backdrop to discussion on how corporations create, focus-group test, and market their processed food.
A number of years ago, the H. J. Heinz Company did an extensive market-research project in which researchers went into people’s homes and watched the way they used 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.” For Heinz, Keller says, that moment was an epiphany. A typical five-year-old consumes about sixty per cent more ketchup than a typical forty-year-old, and the company realized that it needed to put ketchup in a bottle that a toddler could control.
I find it sad, though not shocking, that one company’s “epiphany” directly contributes to this country’s obesity problem.
The article later explains why Heinz ketchup scores higher with professional taste tasters than any other ketchup. I wondered if I was selling my ketchup experience short so I went home and took a long, hard look at my bottle of Safeway store brand ketchup. I then bought a bottle of Heinz and did a side-by-side taste test, and god damn there is a difference. The Safeway brand ketchup was very sharp and had a sour aftertaste, while the Heinz ketchup was very uniform and bold. You will only find Heinz in my cupboard now.