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Heinz marketing aims green ketchup at little squirts

Monday, July 10, 2000

By Patricia Sabatini, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Let's face it, kids like really gross stuff. They like to burp, set bugs on fire, stare at squished squirrels and eat gummy worms and slime pops.


So how about green ketchup for their fries?

Hoping to tap into kids' gross-o-meters, H.J. Heinz Co. is set to introduce green-colored ketchup this fall. The ketchup will come in striped, plastic squeeze bottles shaped to fit little hands and topped with a new, easy-squirt nozzle.

Heinz hopes the new design and wild color will encourage its biggest ketchup fans -- children ages 4 to 12, who consume more ketchup per capita than any other group -- to use even more of it.

"We want kids to take ketchup out of the refrigerator more often," said Casey Keller, managing director for ketchup, sauces and condiments at Heinz.

The new nozzle produces a thinner stream of ketchup that's easier to control and doesn't splatter. The new bottle also uses a softer, more pliable plastic that's easier for small hands to squeeze. And that makes it easier for kids to slather on the ketchup by drawing and writing on their food, Keller said.

The idea for a kids' version evolved after the folks at Heinz spent time with children in their homes and at school to find out how they were coping with ketchup.

"What really struck us is how unwieldy current bottles are in kids' hands. They couldn't control it," Keller said.

Afraid of a mess, "moms got really nervous and would take the bottles away."

So Heinz, the world's biggest ketchup maker, went to work on a better design. Researchers tested roughly 10 prototypes before hitting on a winner.

Heinz also asked children for ideas on how to make ketchup more fun. Not surprisingly, they suggested a funky color.

Blue and green were the top choices. Heinz may switch to blue later on "to keep the idea fresh," Keller said.

Heinz turns the ketchup green by stripping the pigment from regular ketchup and adding green food coloring. Taste tests showed the flavor wasn't affected, he said.

Still, children aren't the ones who buy ketchup. The big question is, will parents bite?

Heinz said the product tested well with focus moms, with three-quarters of them saying they would buy it.

The new kid-friendly bottles, which will come with "EZ Squirt" labels, should start hitting grocery shelves in Pittsburgh in late October and be available nationwide by January.

The bottles also will be available with regular-colored ketchup inside. Both kiddy versions will have added vitamin C.

The 24-ounce bottles will sell for about 30 cents more than the regular variety. Heinz originally tested smaller sizes that would be even easier to handle, but moms said they didn't want to end up running to the store all the time for more.

Ideally, Keller said, every household will buy two bottles of ketchup -- a boring bottle for adults and a snazzy green one for the kids.

"We know adults will throw up on the green one," Keller joked. "But kids think it's fun."

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