Heinz Ketchup Recipe Changing!

This 1957 advertisement proclaimed "No other ketchup tastes like Heinz!"  Soon, neither will Heinz.

This 1957 advertisement proclaimed "No other ketchup tastes like Heinz!" Soon, neither will Heinz.

The salt Nazis have claimed another victim.

For the first time in 40 years, Heinz ketchup is changing its famous recipe — by lowering the salt content in an effort to appeal to more health-conscious consumers, the company said yesterday.

Company officials have taste tested the new blend and believe it will be as popular as their old recipe, which has a 60 percent share of the ketchup market.

But Heinz fans fear that the company may be messing with perfection and that the switch could wind up a flavor debacle equal to the infamous rollout of New Coke.

[…]

When asked why the company was rolling the dice with a new recipe, spokeswoman Jessica Jackson said, “The catalyst . . . came from the changing needs of our consumers and our commitment to health and wellness.”

Jackson said the company had been planning the change for about two years. But it is coming just as Mayor Bloomberg and other politicians are leaning on big food companies to kick the salt. Heinz was one of 16 major food manufacturers that last month signed onto the National Salt Reduction Initiative, a plan led by Bloomberg to get companies to cut back on the salt in their products.

[…]

The new Heinz ketchup recipe will contain about 15 percent less sodium, dropping the amount per tablespoon from 190 to 160 milligrams. Heinz will also make changes to the secret spices. “As we reduced the sodium, we rebalanced the special secret spices,” Jackson said.

She said Heinz was not afraid that the new ketchup would go the way of New Coke, which was rejected by consumers when it was unveiled in 1985. “We conducted extensive testing with a broad cross-section of consumers across the country to ensure there wasn’t a distinguishable difference between the current and new recipes,” she said.

Of course, Coke had conducted extensive tasting tests, too, in which people overwhelmingly preferred the new formula. Until they replaced an old favorite.

Why not just release a “Low Sodium” version and continue selling the current recipe?  That would give consumers a choice, which would seem to be better for all concerned.

It’s interesting, though, that Heinz has changed the recipe in my lifetime, if not my ketchup memory.  (I vastly preferred “Heinz 57” sauce to ketchup until I was 10 or so.)  Heinz pioneered commercially packaged tomato ketchup (which wasn’t redundant at the time) way back in 1876.   So, clearly, they’ve maintained majority market share despite at least two changes in their recipe.  In addition to whatever they did 40ish years ago, they removed the preservative sodium benzoate in “the early years of the 20th century” under pressure from the federal government.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anthony says:

    In the United Kingdom they do a low salt/sugar version. The main problem with it being that it’s pretty disgusting.

    But yes, you’re quite right – give people a choice. It’s apparently considered commercially viable in Britain, so one assumes it would work in the USA too.

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  2. steve says:

    Strikes me as commercially savvy. A small enough change that most people probably wont notice. Women, who do most shopping, will feel that they are buying healthier food for their family.

    Steve

  3. Herb says:

    Now I understand this story operates within a certain context…

    But salt nazis? For voluntarily changing the recipe to better serve “the changing needs of our consumers?”

    And listen to Joe Oliva, quoted in the Post story as saying, “I think it’s infringing on our rights!”

    Well, Joe, you still have the right to buy the store brand, right?

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    I don’t see how anyone can eat Heinz ketchup, which always tastes to me like sugar with a dab of tomato. Ugh. Way too sweet.

  5. John Burgess says:

    I suspect we’ll find that the percentage of corn sweeteners goes up as the sodium content goes down.

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  6. JKB says:

    to ensure there wasn’t a distinguishable difference between the current and new recipes,”

    If that’s the case, why even mention the change. Just phase it into production and no one will ever know.

    Perhaps no one will notice but as good as mom might feel buying the so-called healthier version, the first time the 9-yr old gags to demonstrate her displeasure, it’s done.

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  7. Janis Gore says:

    Comments so far around the web trend toward outrage. My husband will flip when he hears.

    I’m with you, Dr. Joyner. A low-sodium version marketed beside the original seems the more desirable way to go. I’d try it.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I stopped using Heinz products when they changed the original recipe for Heinz chili sauce which had been their only product using real ingredients, e.g. tomatoes, onions rather than reconstituted tomatoes and dried onions, some time ago. I suspect that lots of people will simply get used to the re-formulation but they’ll lose other customers.

    The greatest problem is likely to be for customers who use the product as an ingredient rather than as a condiment. That won’t substitute well.

  9. john personna says:

    Here’s what I would guess: First, most ketchup sales are institutional where this doesn’t matter. Second, the small amounts bought in markets are bought by mom, whose hand might stray to any label that shows concern for her family. Heinz must think the label is worth that much.

    So get your ketchup at a dive burger joint and don’t worry. I mean jeez … you’re eating them on French fries, right?

  10. DavidL says:

    When Heinz has sixty percent of the ketchup market they have much more room to do down than they have to go up. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Heinz is trying to solve a problem they does not exist. When did Al Gore buy Heinz?

  11. Maggie Mama says:

    Any mother worth her salt has already made dietary adjustments to cover the salt in the ketchup …. i.e. not salting the hamburger meat or meatloaf knowing Heinz will add it for her.

    Now we are going to have to readjust all our recipes/behavior.

    I suspect some mothers will have a heavier hand salting food than did Heinz … and like John Burgess I’m worried about how the grams of sugar might increase.

    Damn, the government can’t seem to stay out of my business and now they’re in my kitchen cabinets.

  12. I’ll ask again, is their anything beyond the purview of the federal government? Anything at all?

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  13. Herb says:

    Damn, the government can’t seem to stay out of my business and now they’re in my kitchen cabinets.

    I’ll ask again, is their anything beyond the purview of the federal government? Anything at all?

    What does the government have to do with it?

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  14. Observer says:

    I’ll ask again, is their anything beyond the purview of the federal government? Anything at all?

    That’s pretty rich coming from someone who routinely defends torture, assassinations, and undeclared wars in these comment threads.

  15. Sam says:

    Immediately reminded me of this Malcolm Gladwell article.

    Ketchup comparisons have appeared in Cook’s Illustrated magazine and if I recall correctly, Heinz does well.

    15% less salt with some rejiggering of other spices probably won’t be noticeable to most (taste wise or daily sodium intake wise). Heck, halving the salt likely will have trivial effects on daily sodium intake.

  16. […] modifications to things government already controls and in a direction I support.  But, as Charles Austin asked in relation to Heinz changing its ketchup recipe ahead of pressure from government, “Is […]

  17. john personna says:

    I don’t know why James gave props (in the newer thread) to Charles’ paranoia. As Herb says, what does the government have to do with it?

    I see the salt nazis as doctor-driven (telling everyone to reduce salt as CYA and SOP), and Heinz’s reaction as the way to cash in.

    (It’s more annoying that the local Japanese restaurant puts low sodium soy sauce out by default, but they still have the real stuff. Again, I’m sure that’s marketing driven.)

  18. john personna says:

    Yes Sam, the Gladwell article definitely applies. I mean, think about it, having the low-sodium ketchup on the shelf also validates the choice of us salt lovers! We can take our “original” with the happy idea that we are getting what we want.

  19. Sam says:

    Anyway, ketchup is a condiment… condiments are supposed to have big flavor.

    I just checked the label of some (organic) soy sauce I’ve got on hand, 940 mg sodium per tablespoon. Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, 200 mg per teaspoon.