Squeezing ketchup

Pouring ketchup out of a glass bottle has always been a painful task. Back in the late 1970s, Heinz, a market leader of ketchup in the US tried to tackle this consumer problem using marketing creativity. They framed the slowly moving ketchup as a positive, to make people ‘anticipate’ the ‘arrival’ of the thick ketchup.

In India, Kissan used the same plank using Shammi Kapoor’s iconic song, ‘Aaja Aaja’, in the late 90s.

But, after trying marketing tactics to address the problem, the ketchup industry finally decided to address the root cause of the problem.

May 22, 2002.

ConAgra Foods announces the launch of Hunt’s (their flagship ketchup) with a ‘Perfect Squeeze Ketchup system’ pack. What’s so special about this? As per the press release, this is “the first and only hassle-free ketchup. The Perfect Squeeze System features a new, inverted, easy-grip bottle and vacuum-action cap that dispenses Hunt’s Ketchup easily and neatly with no waiting, no shaking and no mess“.

Remember 2 things – inverted, and vacuum-action cap.

Later that day, Heinz launches Heinz Easy Squeeze!, a “No Wait, No Mess(TM), upside-down bottle” featuring a patented silicone valve that, as per the press release, “gives consumers better control when squirting while eliminating the messy goop that sometimes forms on the cap, resulting in a neater, more convenient experience“.

(Note: Even though Heinz’s press release is dated August 28, 2002, a lot of media houses covered the same-day announcement of both Hunt’s and Heinz, on May 22, 2002.
—See: The Ledger | Bakery & Snacks | Post-Gazette

At that time, Heinz had 58% of the US ketchup market, while Hunt’s had 18.2%.

There was a lot of back-and-forth jibes between the brands given the phenomenal coincidence of the timing of the announcements that had 2 identical innovations – the first-ever inverted bottles for ketchup, and a special cap that allows smoother squirting of the flow. Heinz accused ConAgra of ‘playing ketch-up’, while ConAgra shot back by saying that they see it the other way around and that they had been working on this for 2 years!

Heinz’s patented silicone valve-based cap was produced by Seaquist Closures. The company explains how it works (PDF):

Cut to 2013, India.

Dabur launches a ‘Squeezy’ pack for its market-leading product, Dabur Honey. The pack is NOT inverted, but you can turn it around and squirt honey far more easily than other kinds of packs. Understandably, the product was first targeted at children’s usage.

Perhaps realizing that this product innovation deserves a much wider usage, Dabur not only inverted the pack’s design but also started targeting adults for usage, in 2016.

Much like the 2002 attempt by both Hunt’s and Heinz, Dabur Honey’s pack has the same 2 strikingly useful features:
1. inverted plastic bottle than can be squeezed to squirt out the necessary quantity of honey, that is very similar to ketchup, in texture and consistency!
2. a silicone valve that makes the pack spill-proof and mess-proof.

I would have assumed that either Hunt’s or Heinz may have patented their bottle design and the bottle’s mouth-design (involving the silicone valve design). If so, does it apply only to ketchup, as a category, or can they be extended to other similar liquids like honey too?

I don’t know, and I’m not entirely sure why only Dabur has the same combination in terms of packing innovation while no other brand of honey in India have both (there are many brands with upright plastic, squeezy bottles, and a tapering nose-like mouth, but not mess-proof mouth design).

But, as a frequent buyer of honey, I can tell you from personal experience that Dabur’s squeezy bottle is the most useful, functional, and impressive pack for honey. Every other bottle/pack is annoyingly messy, given how difficult it is to use honey from them, and how instantly they stick to any surface, besides the problem with ants that seem to instantly know when there are drops of honey to swarm towards.

Barring the use of plastic, the overall effort in user experience is commendable, across all three efforts.



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