It was nearing the year 2000 and while everyone seemed to be worried about whether the world’s computers would be obliterated by the Y2K bug, Heinz, an American food processing company, was focused on an entirely different problem.
People weren’t buying ketchup.
To be clear, it wasn’t that people had completely stopped buying the tomato-based product, it was that they were starting to eat healthier and that meant eating fewer hamburgers, fries, and hot dogs, which in turn meant they had little need for ketchup.
Heinz started the year with sales of ketchup hitting a plateau. It was, by far, their most successful product and they needed to act quickly to make sure that it stayed in homes for years to come.
They considered many different ideas to refresh the public’s image of ketchup. One idea was to introduce a new line of ketchups, called EZ Squirt, that came in bold colors. The first color was green and was sold during the release of the movie Shrek. The company hoped that kids would eat the ketchup during the movie and develop a newfound love for the product.1
Parents and kids had fun with the new ketchup as a novelty, but it didn’t really have lasting appeal. Heinz tried releasing new colors like blue and purple and even tried a “mystery color,” where customers didn’t know what color they were going to get. All the radically colored ketchups were met with lackluster sales.
Heinz also turned to more functional ideas. They explored what was preventing customers ...