What ketchup can teach us about new product design

What ketchup can teach us about new product design

I just finished my breakfast – two eggs over easy, hash browns, sausage, whole wheat toast, decaf coffee. It was accompanied by some lovely jam and some rich, red ketchup.

According to food scientists, ketchup is practically the perfect food. Not in a nutritional sense, but in sensory enjoyment. Turns out that this ubiquitous condiment is a masterpiece for the tongue – flitting over each of the major taste areas, dancing between salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. (that’s a rich, protein-like taste).

But it’s not every ketchup that qualifies as a culinary ballerina. It’s Heinz ketchup. As author Malcolm Gladwell wrote in What the Dog Saw, “The taste of Heinz ketchup began at the tip of the tongue, where our receptors for sweet and salty first appear, moved along the sides, where sour notes seemed the strongest, then hit the back of the tongue for umami and bitter, in one long crescendo.”

Yum. Even that description makes my mouth water.

Even if you’re not in the food business, here’s something to consider when you’re developing new products. Does it elicit a powerful reaction? Does it play off inherent consumer needs? Or, on the other hand, is your product already pretty darn perfect?

A powerful reaction can be either physical or emotional. In addition to delivering near-taste perfection, turns out that ketchup delivers a powerful emotional punch, especially for kids (who tend to eat more ketchup than adults). See, kids can’t control what food they get served, but they can control how much ketchup they squirt out on their plates and slather over their chicken fingers.

Ketchup plays off inherent needs by recognizing that there’s more than one taste to appeal to – it literally addresses all five sensory triggers. What are the triggers your consumers have? Can your product address more than one without becoming totally generic? Can you deliver a complete experience?

Or is your product already pretty close to perfection already? There’s a reason why there are tons of mustard varieties and far fewer ketchup varieties – because Heinz and its tantalizing taste dominate the market – and the American palette.

So here’s to ketchup – please pass the bottle.

About the Author

Karen Barnes

Karen is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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