The times have caught up to ketchup at H.J. Heinz Co.
The $10 billion-a-year, Pittsburgh-based food maker has taken the bold step of redesigning its single-serve ketchup packets, a product that has been almost unchanged since being introduced 42 years ago.
Instead of plastic foil packets, which were sometimes messy and hard to open, Heinz is debuting the Dip-n-Squeeze packet. The small plastic tray, covered with a layer of plastic film, holds 27 grams of the firm's trademark ketchup three times as much as a single film packet.
The Dip-n-Squeeze already has been tested in the Pittsburgh market and currently is being tested in Raleigh, N.C., according to Michael Okoroafor, the firm's vice president of packaging innovation. Okoroafor spoke at The Packaging Conference, held Feb. 8-10 in Las Vegas.
There were a lot of skeptics at first, but the reaction has been very positive, he said. Now people are asking for more.
Okoroafor declined to identify the types of plastics used in the Dip-n-Squeeze, but he said the unit uses less resin than packets containing similar volume. Heinz has set an overall goal of reducing the packaging material it uses by 15 percent by 2015.
The firm also recently reduced the size of its Smart Ones frozen meals, including the size of its plastic trays, allowing retailers to display four such meals in a space that previously only held three, Okoroafor said. The amount of PET resin used in its top-down or upside-down ketchup bottles also has been reduced by 8 percent.
Research for the Dip-n-Squeeze included the purchase of a $7,000 used van, which Okoroafor and other researchers drove around the Pittsburgh area, testing out the new packet.
They tried to behave like parents feeding hungry kids after stopping for fast food.
We found out you could put the Dip-n-Squeeze in the cupholder and dip while you were driving, he explained. Development time for a project like this normally would be three years, but we got it done in 17 months.
Designing the 27-gram packet was no small matter for Heinz. The firm produces 23 million single-serve packets each day, so replacing it was something the company took very seriously.
In North America, fast-food companies give away our ketchup, but it drives the sales of fries and chicken nuggets, he said. Packaging is our No. 1 media. And there's no recession in eating.
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