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Heinz, Hunt's battle over who's first with upside-down ketchup bottles

Topsy-turvy food fight

Thursday, May 23, 2002

By Teresa F. Lindeman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The makers of America's two largest ketchup brands came out with bottles spraying yesterday as both announced plans to give the nation the best, cleanest, straightest-shooting container of tomato condiment ever.

In one corner, the Heinz Easy Squeeze -- an upside-down squeezable container with a patented silicone valve that directs ketchup only where users want it to go.

In the other, Hunt's Perfect Squeeze -- an inverted, easy grip bottle with vacuum-action cap that means no waiting, no shaking and no mess.

Hunt's parent ConAgra Foods made the announcement first, allowing it to claim to be the first-ever, hassle-free, no-mess ketchup. Pittsburgh's H.J. Heinz Co., which suspects its news leaked last month when it notified key customers of the planned release, accused its competitor of playing "ketchup."

ConAgra spokeswoman Kay Carpenter declined to be drawn into a food fight, but said with a laugh, "I think we see it the other way around."

If this all seems to be much ado about a condiment, hold the hot dogs.

Heinz has used other innovations, such as green and purple versions, to drive its ketchup market share to 60 percent of the dollars spent. Sales in the condiment and sauces category in the nine months ended in January exceeded $1.6 billion.

Turning a bottle upside down may not be as colorful as pink ketchup, but this new package solves many of the product's eternal issues, said Casey Keller, managing director of ketchup, condiments and sauces.

"We believe this is probably the biggest idea in ketchup since the invention of the bottle," he said.

People don't like shaking the bottle, they don't like that the ketchup is hard to control, they don't like waiting and they really don't like that little drip that comes out and dries like a crust around the opening.

In tests of the new upside-down bottle, as many as 90 percent of respondents said they'd probably or definitely buy it if they could.

"This is the highest research testing we've ever gotten," said Keller.

The technology means it will cost a bit more.

The bottles will be available in 20- and 32-ounce sizes, at prices comparable to traditional 24- and 36-ounce sizes.

Of course, ConAgra research showed similar great results. "It really does eliminate the hassle that you have in getting ketchup out of the bottle," said spokeswoman Carpenter.

She noted that there had been past attempts to find the perfect package.

"It's always been an issue to get the best ketchup bottle."

Both companies claim to have spent two years perfecting their newest designs, and both will be available in stores this summer.

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