Heinz Mustard and French's Ketchup: The Condiment War

Posted on 17 Jun 2015 17:17

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You probably use French's Mustard, and you probably use Heinz Ketchup. It's been this way for many, many years. Heinz, which is in the midst of merging with Kraft Foods [merger now complete], in fact, has been the leading ketchup brand for the last century and more.

Now, Both French's and Heinz is trying to upset that balance. French's has come up with a ketchup, and Heinz has responded by improving it's awful tasting mustard. Are they likely to change anything?

You would think that once people decide what ketchup and what mustard they like, they aren't likely to change. So, there is only one way to cause any significant shift in consumer behavior. A huge advertising blitz. In what's being called the condiment wars, the two condiment giants are doing just that.

To be clear, Heinz mustard is not new, despite Bloomberg having called it a brand new condiment. Heinz has had a mustard on the market for years. It was occasionally seen adorning the tables of casual restaurants. It had, should I say, an "off" taste, the few times I tried some.

The difference is that the mustard previously was sold only in bulk (i.e. for restaurant, institutional, ballgame use), and now will be available in supermarkets (which Bloomberg correctly reported). The new formula, reportedly, is almost identical to French's, just a little more grainy and with a bit more vinegar. Whether the old formula was much different, and I just happened upon a few bad batches, I could not say.

French's, which is owned by Reckett Benckiser out of Britain (based in New Jersey), recently launched its own ketchup, trying to get a piece of Heinz's $450 million pie. Apparently, they just quietly sneaked the ketchup onto shelves, catching even Heinz by surprise.

Old French's Cream Salad Mustard advertisement
Old French's Cream Salad Mustard advertisement

Although it may seem, as I suggested, that Heinz has the ketchup market tied up, there are more and more condiment competitors entering the market, and consumer tastes are changing, often to the exotic and spicy. Their hold on the condiment market is shaky, and they know it.

The Heinz hold on ketchup, however, is much more stable than French's hold on mustard. The mustard market is much smaller to start with, and although you may have a bottle of French's mustard in your fridge right now, you likely also have a Dijon, and even a spicy grain mustard. Therefore, French's has plenty of motivation to capture some of the ketchup market.

French's Mustard History

The R.T. French company began selling mustard during the latter 1800's, in Rochester, New York. They sold powdered mustard seed with turmeric. In 1904, the company introduced it's first prepared mustard product, French's Cream Salad Mustard, after which sales increased significantly. French's Cream Salad Mustard was a much milder mustard than other brands. Although it could be used for salad dressings, and other recipes, its favorite use was as a basic condiment for sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs. It quickly became America's mustard for these purposes, and has been so ever since. French's was so associated with baseball food, especially hot dogs, that the company adopted a pennant as its official logo in 1915. The familiar French's mustard packet, often handed out at ball games, was introduced in 1974.

R.T. French Company was purchased by Reckitt & Colman in 1926. Jeremiah Colman, a flour miller from Norwich, England, had first begun selling mustard powder in 1814, and then exported it worldwide, including into the United States, in 1830.

Heinz Ketchup History

Unlike French's, Heinz did not begin as a condiment company. They sold many canned and jarred foods before they began selling sauces. You can read some more about the history of Heinz in What are the Heinz 57 Varieties? as well as this overview of the history of ketchup.

Heinz began making ketchup in 1873, it was not, at first, an important product to the company. By the beginning of the twentieth century, due to a combination of advertising and its unique, patented bottle, Heinz became the largest tomato ketchup producer in the states. Although both Hunt's and Del Monte were able to give Heinz a run for its money after World War II, causing Heinz ketchup sales to decline, Heinz rallied by moving into television advertising, touting how "thick and rich" the ketchup was. That Heinz ketchup is thicker and very hard to get out of the bottle compared to other brands has been one of its primary selling points ever since.

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