My Ketchup Taste-Test: Upset! Guess Which Brand Topped Heinz.

Flickr Photo Credit: Pixel Drip

Ketchup is the most popular condiment in the United States, and if you ask one hundred people what their favorite brand is, ninety-nine will usually say Heinz.   As for the other guy, he’ll simply say he doesn’t like ketchup, period.   It’s true.

Then there are the kids; I’m certain mine believe that if Heinz ever went out of business, then ketchup would become extinct.

There can be little doubt that the world definitely revolves around Heinz — at least when it comes to ketchup.

A fun article by Jane Black in the Washington Post recalled a ketchup taste-test published in Vogue where 35 different ketchup varieties were sampled and placed into the following categories: Worse Than Heinz, Heinz, Better Than Heinz and Not Really Ketchup.

Heinz Ketchup And Conventional Wisdom

When it comes to all things ketchup, I think most people subscribe to the conventional wisdom that says Heinz is virtually unbeatable.

In fact, Black’s article cites a piece in the New Yorker magazine that makes a credible case why Heinz is essentially ketchup perfection — or at least as close to perfection as any brand could possibly get.   Perhaps this is why Heinz ketchup is so dominant, with a market share of 60 percent in the United States, and 70 percent in Canada.

Anyway, with such a strong headwind against Heinz’s competition, conducting a ketchup taste-test initially seemed like an obvious waste of time.   However, in a stunning upset for the ages, a clear majority of my expert panel actually crowned an underdog brand as the best tasting ketchup, which proves the old maxim, “That’s why they play the game.”

How the Test Was Conducted

As with most of my other taste tests, I recruited a bunch of family members as an expert panel — this time there were 11 eager volunteers (plus the dog, of course).

With the panel in place, I prepared individual ketchup samples in separate bowls.   To ensure the taste test was a blind comparison, the samples were marked ‘A’ through ‘E.’

To sample each ketchup, the panel was given a generous supply of french fries.

The experts were asked to rank each ketchup solely for taste, from best to worst, with five points for the top performer and one point for the worst.   The panel was also free to note any accompanying comments they had regarding each sample.

When comparing products, panelists that could not discern a clear taste advantage between two or more brands were allowed to give identical rankings.

The Expert Panel

Before we get to the results, let’s once again meet our distinguished panel of experts:

Doris

Aunt Doris
Birthplace: London, England
Age: Old enough to know better, young enough not to care.
First Car: 1950 Pontiac Chieftain

Tony
Birthplace: New Haven, Connecticut
Age: 67
First Car: 1958 Chevy Impala

.

Mom

Mom
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 70
First Car: 1956 Chevy

Rose

Rose
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
Age: Old enough to be my mother-in-law.
First Car: 1958 Chevy Impala

Kevin

Kevin
Birthplace: Youngstown, Ohio
Age: 58
First Car: 1961 Volkswagen

Chris

Chris
Birthplace: Hemet, California
Age: Classified (but if you’re interested, it’s on WikiLeaks).
First Car: 1967 Ford Galaxy 500

Honeybee

The Honeybee
Birthplace: Whittier, California
Age: 42
First Car: 1969 Volkswagen

Evan

Evan
Birthplace: Escondido, California
Age: 32
First Car: 1999 Mitsubishi Galant

Mark

Mark
Birthplace: Escondido, California
Age: 30
First Car: 1984 Toyota Camry

Matthew

Matthew
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 13
First Car: Hoping to score Dad’s 1997 Honda Civic. (Fat chance).

Nina

Nina
Birthplace: Fontana, California
Age: 11
First Car: 2001 Fisher-Price

Major1

Major
Birthplace: Julian, California
Age: 7
First Car: 2005 BMW M3 (Just the bumper.)

.

Introducing The Ketchup Competitors

I ran down to my local Albertsons supermarket and bought all five brands of ketchup that they were offering for sale.

In addition to Heinz, I also selected an organic variety by Wild Harvest, a bargain-brand with the Shoppers Value label, Hunts — which happens to be Heinz’s   biggest name-brand competitor — and, lastly, the Albertsons store brand.

Here now, in reverse order, is a summary of the ketchup taste test results, based upon the inputs of my expert panel:

5. Hunts Ketchup

Price per ounce: $0.08
Panel Scoring: 34 points
Average Score (5-point scale): 2.8
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: Zippo.

Although it did manage to score four runner-up ribbons from the panelists, the Hunts brand was unable to garner a single vote for the best-tasting ketchup.   Those disliking the Hunts had the strongest opinions.   Mark noted the ketchup was bland, while the Honeybee was a bit more, um, direct: “It tastes like crap.”   Judging by how quickly my dog ate his french fry, it’s obvious he didn’t agree.   Hmmm.   On second thought, maybe the dog did agree with my wife’s assessment — er, if you know what I mean.

4. Albertsons Ketchup

Price per ounce: $0.09
Panel Scoring: 34 points
Average Score (5-point scale): 2.8
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 2

Although the Albertsons brand didn’t fare much better than Hunts, it did at least pick up two votes for the best-tasting ketchup.   Mark said he picked this brand as his favorite because of its “classic taste.”

3. Wild Harvest Organic Ketchup

Price per ounce: $0.15 (the most expensive of all brands tested)
Panel Scoring: 35 points
Average Score (5-point scale): 2.9
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 1

Even though it was not part of the judging criteria, several panelists noted the uniquely darker color of the organic ketchup from Wild Harvest.   Perhaps not surprisingly, this was the most expensive ketchup sampled, however it didn’t perform as well as one might expect considering the price premium (it was a penny per ounce more expensive than Heinz).   Only one judge, Aunt Doris, gave it the nod for the best tasting ketchup.   According to her, the Wild Harvest brand “had the best tomato flavor” of all the competitors.

2. Heinz Ketchup

Price per ounce: $0.14
Panel Scoring: 42 points
Average Score (5-point scale): 3.5
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 2

Almost all of the judges noted the thicker consistency of the Heinz ketchup.   In all, two judges selected the Heinz as the best tasting brand.   Five others picked Heinz as the runner up.   Rose liked “the fresh flavor” while the Honeybee thought this one “had the best combination of sour and sweet.”

1. Shoppers Value Ketchup

Price per ounce: $0.06 (the least expensive of all brands tested)
Panel Scoring: 51 points
Average Score (5-point scale): 4.3
Human Judges Who Deemed It the Best: 6

My cousin Kevin jokingly remarked that, although he loves it as much as the next guy, he still considers ketchup to be “a hillbilly condiment.”   Perhaps that’s why, somewhat unbelievably, the most popular ketchup with the panel was also the least expensive one.   With blue ribbons from six judges, the Shoppers Value brand not only vanquished Heinz, but it thoroughly trounced all of the competition.   The victory was so impressive that all but one of the judges ranked it either first, second, or third on their list.   Nina and the Honeybee liked the Shoppers Value brand for its sweetness, and Kevin selected it because he thought it had a nice vinegar flavor.   The dichotomy suggests that, flavor-wise, the Shoppers Value ketchup is actually a very well-balanced condiment — something that is typically considered a key strength of the Heinz brand.

The Moral of the Story: Brand Loyalty Can Be Costly

Our brand loyalty is often determined by what we grew up with as kids — especially when it comes to groceries.   I grew up with Heinz ketchup and, until now, have never once considered abandoning it for a less expensive brand such as Shoppers Value.

As always, my best advice to you is to never make assumptions as to which product is superior.

If anything, I think my ketchup taste test just goes to show that it pays to not get complacent with your shopping habits.   Go ahead and take a chance every once in awhile; challenge your brand loyalty by occasionally “testing the waters” with a competing label.

You never know; why risk settling for a familiar but more expensive brand when there might be better-tasting, less expensive, alternatives just waiting to be discovered?

Comments

      • 3

        Mike says

        Len, In general, I hate ketchup. It can be tolerated on fries but only if the fries are of really poor quality. It has no place in my world except to cover the taste of something even less palatable. However, others in my home like ketchup so I went to the supervalu website to find it. I entered my zipcode (60640) and the closest store was about 5 miles away in a distant zipcode at a Cub foods store. I live in the heart of Chicago, so when it comes to grocery shoppong, anything further than a mile takes major consideration. (We have a saying here, Chicago has only 2 seasons, winter and construction. Currently, EVERY underground water pipe is being replaced at a cost of zillions of dollars)

        In addition, this problem increases to the level of absurdity as Cub foods, at least this store, has been closed for over 5 years.

        Of couse, I wouldn’t expect you to check every area in the U.S. but I am at a loss as to why you didn’t check mine. That’s about as absurd as the store being closed for 5 years, but you seem to have a sense of humor, so I thought I’d throw it in.

        But perhaps someone with influence (you rather than me) could ask supervalue to update their website more than once adecade, if that.

        If you want, you might send this email to them along with your taste test to show them how much of the disgusting tomato(e) based substance they are not selling by leading customers astray.

        BTW, I have eaten Supervalu products before and have found many of them to be a 4+ quality, so I do have an interest in finding a resourse for them.

        http://www.supervalu-storebrands.com/storebrands_labels.asp

  1. 4

    says

    When I read the headline of your post I thought “Hunts is the worst!”, and I was right. I cannot stand Hunts. I must be a hillbilly because I love my ketchup and am very particular about it. (For instance, I cannot stand the ketchup at Canadian McDonalds. They probably use real ingredients or something there.)

    Loved the photos in the post. I felt like I was there!

  2. 5

    says

    Well, for a moment I was upset to find there’s no Shoppers Value connection near me. But then I looked up my cost for Heinz, 5.6 cents per ounce at Costco, a fraction of your price per ounce in the supermarket, and even lower that SV.
    Even if SV tasted better, tough to introduce a generic brand into my house when we’ve used the Heinz for decades.

    • 6

      says

      This post was a great example of how generic vs non-generic is about trivial perceptions and marketing. Interesting to see a comment about reluctance to move away from a loyal brand connection. Especially since I don’t imagine that Heinz has contributed much to most consumers as far as customer service or other lifestyle commitments outside of just being a product on the shelf

      • 7

        TampaMom says

        This post is a reply to Sketchee’s statement “I don’t imagine that Heinz has contributed much to most consumers as far as customer service or other lifestyle commitments outside of just being a product on the shelf.” Just wanted to say that I have a lot of respect for the Heinz Company because they commit a huge portion of their profits to the Heinz Foundation, which funds many, many, MANY charities, nonprofit organizations and research grants. PS: Loved the survey, and appreciated the “first car” info on the participants. It might not be important, but it was fun! Thanks!

  3. 8

    says

    GREAT post Penzo, the perfect balance of sweetness, and vinegar…

    Two questions:
    “What the hell does the ‘first car’ have to do with anything?”

    “How big is your dog?” Must be a mastiff like my daughters, to hit the bumper and not just the tire…

  4. 10

    Spedie says

    I most always buy the generic type of catsup, because, well, if I don’t like it (never have had that situation), I’d just put ketchup on it!!! :)

  5. 11

    says

    From a consumer perspective, it shows that it can be costly to be brand loyal. You can get a comparable product at less price in many cases…or maybe even a better product.

    From a business perspective, it shows how valuable smart branding can be. So much of it is all about strategic marketing. Perception can trump reality, and make you money too!

  6. 12

    says

    @Everyday: I consider myself to be picky about ketchup too, Kris. Then there’s my son; he is a ketchup-holic. The boy puts the stuff on *everything* (even pizza) — and he preferred the Shoppers Value too.
    @Joe: You make a great point about being able to get Heinz for cheap at Costco — that’s where we buy our Heinz ketchup! LOL Thanks for pointing that out. Still, not everyone is a member of Costco or other club stores, or wants to buy ketchup in bulk.
    @Dr. Dean: Thank you, Doc! To answer your first question: not a darn thing. :-) As for the second, I have a seven year old Rhodesian Ridgeback that weighs about 125 pounds. He has accidentally bowled me over a few times when we play.
    @Bret: In one of my earlier name-brand vs store-brand taste tests, I compared Pace salsa to the Albertson’s store brand. Maybe I should do a taste test with a wider variety of salsas though. I’ll see what I can do. :-)
    @Spedie: You sound like my son. LOL
    @Squirrelers: Yep, branding is extremely important. Smart branding can make up for a lot of imperfections — although I’d never accuse the quality of Heinz ketchup as being flawed in any way. :-)

  7. 13

    says

    I guess I am the one of 100 people that doesn’t like ketchup. But I also don’t like french fries.

    We use Heinz….tried to buy something else, and the kid and the husband wouldn’t eat it.

  8. 15

    says

    I LOVE these taste test things. I have been known to keep the name brand container and swap out the lower priced stuff without the family knowing. It saves me money and if the don’t notice, who am I hurting?

  9. 16

    says

    @Sandy, LOL. I should totally do that to my husband’s bottle of French’s mustard…I don’t think he can really tell anyway…

    Len, I wish I had the post ideas you do, lol. Great taste test! We usually use the leftover ketchup packets from fast food, so I think the only other bottle in the house is Kroger brand, lol. :-)

  10. 17

    says

    Fun experiment! I’m a big proponent of buying generic myself. With 99% of products you really can’t tell the difference. I think the only who wins out with the branding are the ad agencies.

  11. 18

    Sandy E. says

    Your mom was born in Youngstown, OH? that caught my attn. because I was born in New Castle, PA. Mention it to her, she’ll know. I have relatives in Youngstown. Re ketchup, and not meaning to throw a wrench into the monkey, I’ve been buying Hunts because it’s made without high fructose corn syrup. At a restaurant though, I will eat whatever ketchup is presented and lots of it.

  12. 19

    says

    @YesIAmCheap: You’re not the only one, Sandy. I’ve done it before with cereal — the kids don’t know the difference.
    @BIFS: We use those ketchup packets too, sometimes when we’ve run out of the Heinz in the bottle. However, the downside is sometimes we get one that we’ve been saving just a *little* too long and it tastes really gross.
    @Jane: As my other taste test experiments have verified, for many items you can’t tell the difference, sometimes the store-brand is better, and sometimes the national brands win out.
    @Sandy E.: Both my mom *and* dad are from Youngstown, OH! I still have a few relatives living there. :-)

  13. 20

    says

    Hi Len, I definitely agree on the Hunts ketchup! Bleh. I was a Heinz girl for a while but then I switched to the Whole Foods organic, which is quite tasty. The price per serving? I’ve conveniently forgot. :) Now I am seriously craving french fries!

  14. 22

    says

    I am less picky regarding ketchup, mustard is more important. In Belgium, there is 200 varieties. The bottom line is it is personal taste, but worth taking a second look!

  15. 23

    says

    I am also of the 1% that doesn’t like ketchup. I love tomato and all natural tomato sauces but ketchup for me it’s always artificial…

  16. 25

    says

    I believe that if you had allowed the judges to consider the thickness of the ketchup as well as taste, Heinz would have triumphed. However, I’m biased. I grew up in SW Pa., so black and gold courses through my veins, and I also bleed Heinz ketchup. (Go Steelers!)

  17. 26

    says

    @krantcents: I hate mustard. Absolutely detest the stuff. Even Grey Poupon.
    @Nona: Thanks for explaining how one can like tomato sauces but dislike ketchup. That is a great explanation that makes sense to me. Abrazos y besos!
    @Karen: Pittsburgh has nothing to be ashamed of in how the Heinz performed! Although I can’t say for certain Heinz would have won if I had expanded the criteria to include other characteristics like color and thickness, I suspect it may have. My opinion is that it was clearly the thickest and richest of the all five samples.

  18. 27

    says

    Where do you find the Shopper’s Value brand? I always buy name brand when it comes to ketchup, but apparently that’s a mistake! Thankfully, I get it on sale with coupon.

    • 28

      says

      My Albertsons carries it, Kay Lynn. In my response to Larry I included a link that has a locator that can tell you which stores carry it in your neighborhood.

  19. 29

    jdp says

    YES! My local Shop N Save has shoppers value according to their website.

    Smart mom’s know how to get around the ‘label’ reject of kids (and grown kids, i.e. husbands) – buy the SV and pour it in an heinz bottle :) After its all gone and no one complained you can reveal the empty SV bottle and voila – brand switch.

  20. 31

    says

    This is interesting because ketchup here in Australia actually IS different tasting/flavoured to American ketchup.

    And so, I am a loyal Heinz girl even though it’s by far the most expensive only because I actually can taste the difference and dislike whatever it is the Aussies add to their typical ketchup brands.

  21. 32

    kelliinkc says

    I buy whatever ketchup I get the best price on. Family doesn’t seem to notice. On the salsa taste test….. My family hates the typical cooked Pace, Old El Paso. My favorite is the fresh, refrigerated at Costco while my husband and son prefer the fresh, refrigerated at Sam’s.

    I also read your cereal taste test. Great articles!

  22. 33

    says

    @Caz: Whatever the Aussies add to their ketchup, I just hope it’s not Vegemite. ;-)
    @kellinkc: I’m glad you enjoyed the articles! I like to make my own fresh salsa at home. There is nothing better — especially with homemade tortilla chips! :-)

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