PITTSBURGH -- Some people rip off the corner of the packet with their teeth. Others, while driving, squirt the ketchup directly into their mouth, then add fries. Some forgo fries at the drive-through all together to keep from creating a mess in the car.
After observing these and other "compensating behaviors," H. J. Heinz Co. says it spent three years developing a better ketchup packet, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Heinz says the new "Dip and Squeeze" packets will begin replacing the traditional rectangular ketchup packets later this year at Wendy's restaurants. Smaller chains including Chick-fil-A, Smashburger and International Dairy Queen started carrying the packets earlier this year.
McDonald's and Burger King are testing the packets but declined to comment on the results.
As the name promises, "Dip and Squeeze" ketchup can be squeezed out through one end or the lid can be peeled back for dipping. The red, bottle-shaped packets hold three times the ketchup as traditional packets. The new containers are more expensive than the old sleeves, but Heinz hopes customers learn not to grab more than one or two.
To develop the new packet, Heinz staffers sat behind one-way, mirrored glass, watching consumers in 20 fake minivan interiors putting ketchup on fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.
To try new prototypes himself, Mike Okoroafor, Heinz vice president of global packaging innovation and execution, bought a used minivan, taking it to local McDonald's and Wendy's drive-thrus to order fries and apply ketchup in the confined space.
Heinz for decades has searched for better single-serve packets. The company has tried making them bigger, easier to open, or attachable to a cup of French fries. None of the changes could be made cheaply or solve customers' main complaints -- the single-serve packets are messy, hard to open and do not provide enough ketchup -- say executives. For about the past decade, Heinz sold two single-serve containers: the classic squeeze packet and a dipping cup.
Heinz believes traditional ketchup packets are so annoying that they stop people from ordering fries at drive-thrus. "Fry inclusion orders" at drive-thrus "have been going down for years," says John Bennett, vice president of food-service ketchup, condiments and sauces for Heinz.
A large, wedge-shaped packet almost made it onto the market but Heinz ditched the design months before its planned introduction in 2008. Okoroafor declines to say what Heinz spent developing the "Dip and Squeeze."