Changing Tastes – Heinz and Hunt’s Ketchups Revamp Their Formulas

Heinz Ketchup

This week brought two announcements of major ketchup brands Heinz and Hunt’s changing their formulas in response to consumer demand.

Hunt’s Ketchup and High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Hunt’s announced the switch from high fructose corn syrup to sugar in their ketchup. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is often blamed for America’s weight problems. Sugar has become more popular among consumers in recent years as part of a general call for more of a product’s ingredient list to be made up of recognizable foods. It’s likely possible to buy HFCS by the bottle at your local grocery store, but the paper bags of sugar are a lot more familiar to Americans.

While the chemical composition of HFCS is similar to sugar, the flavor is quite different. Many companies are using “real sugar/no HFCS” as a selling point in their products. Until recently, Mexican Coca-Colas were made with sugar, instead of HFCS, and were sought after by people preferring the taste of sugar. It will be interesting to taste the difference between the old Hunt’s and the new HFCS-free ketchup.

Heinz Ketchup and Salt

Not to be outdone, Heinz followed quickly with the notice that they’re cutting salt in their ketchup by 15%. Salt has been implicated in the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Doctors have long recommended that people add less salt at the table, but since 80% of the salt we consume is in processed foods, reduction at the table has had a minimal effect.

Smaller organic and natural foods companies have been offering foods with less salt for some time, but their market share is small in their respective areas. With 60% of the U.S. ketchup market, and with ketchup being America’s most popular condiment, perhaps Heinz can start a trend of less salt among major brands of processed foods.

Nutrition

Both Hunt’s and Heinz brands of ketchup contain tomatoes, vinegar, salt, and sweetener (sugar or HFCS) as their principal ingredients, along with “other seasonings”, which in Heinz consists of natural flavors, spice, and onion powder.  One tablespoon of ketchup contains about 15 calories, all from carbohydrates, and a little vitamin A.  With the tomatoes in ketchup, there is some nutritional benefit that is not cancelled out by the added sweeteners.  As with all things, moderation is key.

But keep in mind, if you’re looking for health benefits from ketchup, organic brands have triple the lycopene of the major conventional brands.

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by jphilipson

4 Comments

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  1. Hunt’s switch to refined sugar is, as you say, motivated by sugar’s popularity, not a health principle. I hope that don’t think they are getting some health benefit out of the switch. Both ketchups will have the same number of calories.

  2. Actually, manufacturers may in part be changing to sugar to please customers, but mostly that is just marketing. With corn in high demand for fuel products and animal feed, the price of sugar is once again competitive and sometimes cheaper than HFCS. Without this price advantage, don’t count on customer preferences or health concerns having much sway. That being said, an overabundance of sugar in prepared foods isn’t going to be any better than an overabundance of HFCS. It just won’t sound as bad on an ingredients list.

    BTW, I believe salsa is America’s biggest selling condiment, not ketchup (or has ketchup overtaken again?)

  3. Heinz ketchup is delicious as it is. They already sell a reduced salt version for people who want it so why change the regular one?

    • Great question, Greg! The main reason would be to replace the high fructose corn syrup with sugar. With more and more folks trying to avoid HFCS, it's great to see companies listening to consumers.

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