Ketchup: trademark or quality? And what is quality, btw?

By Dagmar
In Discussion
Aug 29th, 2015
0 Comments
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Such a ‘staple’ on the fast food table.

I do not fancy ketchup that much but I understand that some people love it to bits. What made me writing this article was a short piece in Metro papers I have read:

heinz ketchup

I have already read about Heinz ketchup in a negative way before. It was after an independent laboratory test was published in Czech republic a couple of years ago in a magazine called d-Test. That test was comparing several brands of ketchup on the Czech  market. Heinz did not do too well in several parameters, including the content of mycotoxins (mold spores), pesticides or the actual tomato content. As almost a winner came out Mikado ketchup from Lidl, widely sold in the country (I declare no ties with the company, that was just a fact). The absolute winner was not so widely sold in the country.

After reading the short article above, I went to look for the actual tomato content online. They were right! While Heinz tomato ketchup contains some 132g of tomatoes for 100g of product (in a glass bottle), Tesco’s ketchup has 175g tomatoes per 100g of product! Yet, you pay for Heinz £1.20 (at Tesco’s) and £0.65 for the Tesco’s own brand, even for a little larger volume. That is what I call value!

On the other hand, the Tesco’s Everyday Value ketchup contains only 116g of tomatoes for 100g of product, but also costs you mere £0.21 per identical volume of Heinz’s product (342g). You basically get what you pay for, but not always as you can see below:

Brand Tomato content per 100 g Price per 100 g of that pack
Heinz  342 g squeezy 148 g 35p
Heinz 342 g bottle 132 g 37 p
Tesco  460 g squeezy 175 g 14p
Tesco  345 g bottle 175 g Currently unavailable
Asda  370 g Chosen by you 162 g 17p
Asda 550 g Smart price 120 g tomato puree 6.6p
Pudliszki 480 g (sold in UK Tesco’s) 183 g 24 p
Mikado (sold in Poland) 196 g n/a

Shocked? I would be if I were you. Heinz ketchup is the most expensive and with the lowest content of tomatoes from these I have listed. It basically has about a third less tomatoes per unit of volume than the most ‘tomatoey’ Mikado, yet being sold for about a third more than another comparable product Pudliszki. That Pudliszki is a Polish product which can be found in some stores in the UK and Mikado is another Polish product made for Lidl supermarkets but I did not find the price for it online in British pounds. Next time I  will go to Lidl I will have a look whether they sell it over here. In general, Lidl has much friendlier prices for its products (often of a higher quality, too) than any other big supermarkets in Britain (Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, etc).

For the table above I have tried to choose similar volume of the bottles and comparable products (sqeezy vs. bottle) where possible. The prices per given pack size varied for Heinz among supermarkets, but that was not the main point of this comparison.

Loving the taste, loyal to the brand

I completely understand that the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that our taste buds like their usual thing which is what Heinz bets on when announcing:

“GROWN NOT MADE*: It’s our *sun ripened tomatoes, along with our passion & knowledge that give our recipe its unique flavour. Grown not made… No other tomato ketchup tastes quite like it.”

And:

GROWN NOT MADE*: BY APPOINTMENT TO HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN PURVEYORS OF HEINZ PRODUCTS H.J. HEINZ FOODS UK LTD., HAYES, MIDDX.

Or even

KOSHER!

Waw! Should I be impressed?

So now, despite being kosher, they have lost on the Israel market.

I am sure that nothing else tastes like Heinz ketchup, thanks to their mix of spices (and also the apparent lack of more tomatoes). And I know that people will keep buying it because this is ‘their‘ ketchup. But I would really prefer (if I liked ketchup) to have more tomatoes in there. And I would also like to pay more reasonable price for this cheated product, not willing to finance that annoying, ever present, massive advertising campaigns in every possible media you come across each day.

What is the quality then? 

If the content of the tomatoes was not the matter of the quality for somebody, then perhaps the foreign and often harmful content could fall within this premise. I have already mentioned some of these: mycotoxins, pesticides, even herbicides. This is particularly important today, when the GMO and chemicals resistant crops are being developed so that we can spray them like crazy, for our ‘good’. Or rather for the good of the Monsanto’s, Syngenta’s and other similar companies pockets, who sell these harmful chemicals. So, to top up the bad picture about the Heinz for its poor tomato content, it did not do too well in these microbiological and chemical aspects either. It is important to realize that even with a smaller content of tomatoes they scored higher in mycotoxins and pesticides content. That makes me question what quality tomatoes go into the pot in the first place?

Maybe the company has improved it since then, who knows? But even if they did, that lower content of tomatoes would not convince me as a customer.

Of course, I cannot comment on the content of mycotoxins or other harmful chemicals in other ketchups I have mentioned here. The tests are extensive and expensive. Even that d-Test I mentioned previously only offers the complete results to the paying customers.  We most often learn about something that could harm us when it already went on the market and found some customers already, sometimes causing damage by then. This article is rather thought provoking than informing the readers which ketchup is the healthiest. But, after reading this, I guess you already have an idea and perhaps you will think twice when buying an overpriced product next time. If you do not pay for the tomatoes, which are the main component of ketchup, then you surely pay for something else. That something might be water, starches, some other ingredients. In that case I am out.

Nonetheless, based on the ingredients list of the Heinz ketchup, they do not seem to have added anything to it that would reduce the tomato content. They simply do not evaporate the tomato mass for long enough to get rid of the excess fluid, which then remains in their products, while other products are more concentrated.

Lobbyism rulez!

Based on other source of this news, Heinz does not plan to put more tomatoes in its ketchup to fit the Israeli regulations and perhaps to justify its price and the reputation of a high quality. Instead, they seek to alter the regulations in Israel so that their ‘fraud’ would finally fit the country criteria:

Heinz’s Israeli distributor is reported to be seeking a change in regulations.

How mean! Does this remind you something? To me it assembles a principle of TTIP: big and rich companies lobbying in sovereign countries to ditch their regulations in order to secure the profit to the company. Yuk.

A final bit

Have you noticed a different content of tomatoes in the both Heinz products? They, as a product, seem to be identical, just the packaging is different. Some people prefer tradition like food or condiments in the glass jars, while others do not mind plastics and prefer the convenience that comes with it: having the sauce readily at the tip of the bottle standing upside down and instantly pouring the sauce on the chips on one squeeze. Getting a thick ketchup from nearly empty glass bottle could be quite difficult or even dangerous. To get the answer I have contacted the Heinz customer care team with this query three days ago (Wednesday), the same day I learned about this case in Israel. Their reply came the next day but it was just a generic answer on questions I did not ask: they explained to me what the 148g in 100g of product actually mean and why they do not use percentages to express this. I asked again, right after I received the e-mail (Thursday), but no answer came yet. If they finally respond, I will inform you.

In the meantime, have a look that in Tesco’s products, the content of tomatoes is identical in both: bottle and squeezy version. Maybe that was a typo which also can happen. But if not, they do not seem to have concerns about the thickness of the ketchup in a bottle. Maybe it really was too thick in the glass bottle and that is why this product has been unavailable for some time on the website. I did not go to investigate into the supermarket in person. But maybe there was something else why Heinz made different ketchup for different bottles. Let’s be patient. They may finally send the answer after they discuss this with the sales or production team. In the meantime, after a query from my Facebook friend about the ‘posh’ Waitrose ketchups, I have had a look at some and, voilà, they managed to fit no less than 200g into 100g of tomatoes and still sell it in a glass bottle with a narrow neck. Stokes real tomato ketchup seems to be the winner here, but it will cost you more, obviously.

And yes, ketchup was not always made of tomatoes and not always is. But that is a different story.

UPDATE 29.8.2015 afternoon: I have been to Lidl and looked for the ketchup. They do not seem to sell Mikado in the UK. I have seen two: Heinz squeezable and so called Kania tomato ketchup, made exclusively for Lidl. Guess what? It also had a higher content of tomatoes: 172 g of fresh tomatoes in 100 g of final product. No starch. The price was £0.55 (discounted from £0.59) for 595 g bottle, translating to 9.7p per 100 g of product. That is what I call value, again.

About "" Has 48 Posts

Graduated at London Metropolitan University: BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition in 2014. Working as a research assistant at the MRC, The University of Cambridge.

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