Playing Ketchup


People get passionate about lots of things. It can spark innovation, social change and personal enlightenment.

Following a passion takes time, resources and dedication and not all things are worth the pursuit. Such is the case with the Heinz and French’s Condiment War. 

The once comfortable bed fellows on your red checkered backyard table started battling it out this summer.  Heinz, the ketchup king, has launched a yellow mustard and French’s has bravely retaliated with it’s own ketchup.  I know…I felt the earth move too. 

Some brand battles have merit like Apple versus the PC and my personal favorite, the Cola Wars between Coke and Pepsi. 

Ketchup and mustard while heavily consumed products in the US are highly commoditized with single-digit growth and tight margins. Yet that has not stopped Heinz and French’s.

I am not saying investment and innovation in a core business does not have merit. Oreos, a 103-year-old brand has refreshed itself as uber relevant for consumers by being spot on in social media and tapping into the foodie culture dessert resurgence with Red Velvet Cake and Key Lime Pie limited edition skus. 

But I am unclear what the REAL benefit consumers get from a French’s ketchup or a better Heinz’s mustard. There isn’t even guilty pleasure in watching the commercials. 

I get it strategically.  Natural synergies with existing businesses, more distribution points, bundled displays, category news, share of shelf, great consumer taste test results… blah, blah, blah. 

As a conspiracy theorist, this reeks of a pet project or personal vendeta that no one but the six people involved on either side really cares about. 

Millions of dollars and tireless employee hours pour into developing and launching new products. As marketing leaders, it’s critical we leverage investment for true competitive threats or breakthrough innovation.  In other words, let’s make it worth the effort. 

My husband has a BRILLIANT saying “fighting over the fry machine” when people put a lot of energy into something inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. 

Sure, people love ketchup, but Heinz and French’s are “fighting over the fry machine” of traditional condiments while the category has been massively reframed with the surge of fresh, healthy and innovative products like salsas, hummus and avocado everything. 

I’m sure Heinz and French’s made exceptional sales rally materials and funny video reels for their internal teams.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, this condiment war is really bland.

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