A Facebook-only condiment launch

November 10, 2011

Heinz may build buzz for balsamic vinegar in ketchup, but we think eyes will be on consumer acceptance of brown sugar too.

Word is out that Heinz is launching a tonier version of ketchup with balsamic vinegar as a test this winter. If it sells briskly through March, it will become a regular SKU, the New York Times reports.

Two aspects of this introduction intrigue us the most at The Lempert Report. The first point is the holiday season timing when host households want entertaining and the foods they serve to satisfy and be error-free. Better still if they could be first to the table with a new twist on a classic condiment. But they have only one way to gain access to this new item in time – buy it through the brand’s Facebook page beginning November 14, because it won’t be available in supermarkets until late December.

Our bet is consumers in the know will gladly fork over some extra dough to gain buzz points with family and friends. And they’ll feel the brand took care of them. For Heinz, a good initial sell-through could pressure U.S food stores to accept the SKU, even if it means culling another variety from the brand’s shelf space.

Balsamic ketchup was introduced to shoppers in England in a nearly identical manner this past March, with the help of We Are Social, Ltd.  At the time, agency blogger Sarah Oliver described the outreach to 45,000 UK Facebook fans of Heinz as “a double Facebook first – the first time a food product has been exclusively launched via Facebook, and the first time branded food products have been sold via Facebook in the UK.”   

The scale is higher in the U.S., where 825,000 people follow Heinz on Facebook. Which brings us to our second point:  This formula uses brown sugar to sweeten instead of high fructose corn syrup, a mainstay ingredient in its most popular recipe. Will Heinz make this a key messaging point in its U.S. campaign? Will the company closely watch how consumers react to brown sugar in ketchup? Might this be an early sign that Heinz is considering a potential ingredient shift for the brand portfolio? 

Since the holiday season is nearly here, we won’t have to anticipate these developments for long.