By SARAH SKIDMORE
For decades there was only one way to use the humble ketchup packet, and it was messy. Now, thanks to a redesign by Heinz, fast-food lovers have a choice: the traditional squeeze play -- or the option to dunk.
You want fries with that, in the minivan? No problem.
The redesigned ketchup pack, unveiled Thursday by H.J. Heinz Co., is shaped like a shallow cup. The top can be peeled back for dipping, or the end can be torn off for squeezing. It holds three times as much ketchup as a traditional packet.
"The packet has long been the bane of our consumers," said Dave Ciesinski, vice president of Heinz Ketchup. "The biggest complaint is there is no way to dip and eat it on-the-go."
Heinz struggled for years to develop a container that lets diners dip or squeeze, and to produce it at a cost that is acceptable to its restaurant customers.
Designers found that what worked at a table didn't work where many people use ketchup packets: in the car. So two years ago, Heinz bought the design team a used minivan to give their ideas real road tests.
The team studied what each passenger needed. The driver wanted something that could sit on the armrest. Passengers wanted the choice of squeezing or dunking. Moms everywhere wanted a packet that held enough ketchup for the meal and didn't squirt onto clothes so easily.
Heinz is rolling out the new packs this fall at select fast-food restaurants nationwide. It will continue to sell the traditional packets.
The company said it is still working out prices with customers. But the new packet should cost only a little more, even though it holds much more ketchup.
Heinz is by far the biggest ketchup maker. About half of its ketchup is sold in stores and the other half is sold to the food service industry through its exclusive contracts with chains like Burger King and Wendy's.
McDonald's, the nation's largest burger chain, does only limited business with Heinz.
Heinz sells more than 11 billion ketchup packets every year. But neither the ketchup maker nor the major chains would say who plans to carry the new design.
Customers may force the issue.
Rants about the messy packs have helped spawn hundreds of anti-ketchup-packet groups on Facebook.
Matt Kurtz, a 22-year-old student in New York, has drawn 269 members to the group he started after he ripped open a packet too quickly and spilled it on his jeans while on a road trip two years ago.
"That's when I said 'There has to be a better way.'"
At a McDonald's in Covington, Ky., customers said a redesign was overdue.
"You use up a lot of ketchup now with the packets, I always get extra ones," said Skyler McDermott, 29. "Maybe now you won't have to use your teeth to open them."
These issues come as no surprise to Heinz's Ciesinski. "We created the packet in 1968," he said. "Consumer complaints started around 1969."