By Sarah Skidmore, AP Food Industry Writer , On Thursday February 4, 2010, 3:05 pm EST
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The ketchup packet has been around for more than 40 years, and complaints about it for nearly as long: too messy, too small, too hard to open. Now ketchup giant H.J. Heinz Co. is unveiling the first major packaging change to the to-go condiment.
The new design has a base that's more like a cup for dipping and also a tear-off end for squeezing, plus it holds three times as much ketchup than 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 has long struggled to find a design that lets diners dip or squeeze ketchup that could also be sold at a price acceptable to its restaurant customers. For this effort, it bought its design team a used minivan two years ago to test if their ideas really worked while eating on the road.
Heinz sells more than 11 million cases of its ketchup packets in the U.S. every year and it will continue to sell the traditional packet. The new packet is in test markets in the Midwest and Southeast and will roll out at select fast-food restaurants in the fall.
Heinz is still working out prices with customers but said packets will cost a little more than regular packets.
Will they catch on? It's hard telling, but the news may cheer some ketchup fans like Matt Kurtz, a 22-year-old student who finds the problems are as ubiquitous as the packets themselves.
The self-proclaimed ketchup aficionado became so annoyed two years ago after spilling ketchup on his jeans while on a road trip, he started one of hundreds of anti-ketchup packet groups on Facebook. He dubbed it "Prop 57" as a gentle poke at Heinz, saying it is to "draw awareness" to the packets' shortcomings.
"I said 'There has to be a better way'," he said.