Sunday, March 10, 2002

Food stuff

Will chocolate-cinnamon flavored tuna be next?

        My hand quivers with anticipation as I squeeze the plastic bottle.

        Will my ketchup be colored “Passion Pink,” “Awesome Orange” or “Totally Teal?”

        It is . . . Awesome Orange. I think. Actually, the rusty hue might be closer to “Surprisingly Sienna.” But hey, who's going to quibble about the shade of your ketchup when it's no longer “Realistic Red?”

        The EZ Squirt Mystery Color is the latest gimmick from Heinz. By the end of April, it'll roll out a million bottles of Mystery Color ketchup. The deal is, consumers won't know which of the three wild colors they've bought until they squirt the ketchup on a plate. Brilliant.

        Heinz hopes young folks will sign on to and vote for their favorite new color. The Pittsburgh-based company then will oblige by producing the winning ketchup shade in late summer.

        Ancient Romans may have been the first to change the look of their food by throwing a pinch of red saffron into the pot, but Heinz has taken color enhancement to a startling new level.

Parkay joins the fray

               Ketchup as we know it began to change in August 2000, when Heinz boldly introduced its “Blastin' Green” ketchup.

        “When you talk about changing the color of ketchup, people do raise an eyebrow,” says Heinz spokesman Michael Mullin. “But we were willing to take the risk.”

        The green ketchup . . . . Let's say that again . . . The green ketchup performed so well Heinz began selling “Funky Purple” ketchup last summer.

        Later, Parkay spun the color wheel by introducing “Electric Blue” and “Shockingly Pink” “Fun Squeeze” margarine.

        If anything is more bizarre than purple ketchup, it has to be blue margarine: phony butter that doesn't even try to look like butter.

        Not to be outdone, Heinz will flood the freezer case with its new Ore-Ida brand “Funky Fries” in May. Funky Fries are flavored frozen potatoes ready to be fried or oven-baked — spicy “Cinn-Stiks,” “Sour Cream & Jive,” “Kool Blue,” “Crunchy Rings,” and “Cocoa Crispers.” Only two of the new products — Kool Blue and Cocoa Crispers — come in unusual colors (bright blue and chocolate brown).

        And that's plenty, thank you.

        Funky Fries were developed concurrently with the palette of colored ketchups, says Heinz spokesman (for fries) Michael Doherty.

        The blue fries look pretty cool with the purple ketchup, he brags, and the Cocoa Crispers smell like brownies baking in the oven.

        Ore-Ida researchers tried 50 potato variations on focus groups before settling on these five. One daring French fry Frankenstein that didn't survive the research: fruit-flavored fried potatoes.

        “The kids (in the focus groups) were actually OK with those,” Mr. Doherty says. “But their moms were appalled.”

        So the moms were wildly enthusiastic about blinding blue fries?

Hidden help for parents

               The new Heinz products were developed to please kids, of course — not moms and dads. This is all about putting the “fun” back into eating for children, Heinz honchos say.

        Excuse me. Who took the fun out of eating hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries? Further, considering the burgeoning obesity rate for children, do we really need to make eating junk food more enjoyable?

        A young mother smacked my hand when she heard this argument, pointing out children squirt the sweet condiment on everything edible. Garish ketchup might help parents cajole their kids into eating broccoli, broiled chicken and other healthy, icky foods.

        So maybe these freakish food innovations are aimed at parents after all.

        But what are the ramifications down the road? In 10 years, will the coddled youngsters demand chartreuse pepperoni on their pizza? Or chocolate-cinnamon flavored tuna salad? As young adults, will they insist on burnt orange sea bass and azure potatoes Anna?

        If so, you can bet Heinz will assemble a focus group faster than you can squeeze a bottle of EZ Squirt.

        Contact Chuck Martin by phone: 768-8507; fax: 768-8330; e-mail:


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- MARTIN: Food stuff
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