One of my commitments here is to share ideas that I have no plans to commoditize – it’s not what I’m about. Ideas? Yes. Turning them into workable products and services? Not so much. I could, but I have way too many ideas to chase each one.

So, here’s today’s idea.

I was sitting in my favourite local diner – When Pigs Fly Café – having a late-breakfast-early-lunch

[doesn’t feel right to call it brunch on a Friday – for some reason, that feels like a Sunday thing]

and began to noodle on the subject of ketchup.

But, before I get there, let’s cover some groundwork.

Firstly, you need to know that over the course of my adult life, I have maintained my weight within a window from 220-240 lbs. For a brief period, when Elise was born and I was travelling a lot, I went above the 240, but thankfully Atkins helped me winch that back down again

[curse you comfort-eatable carbohydrates]

Anyway, for the past year or so, I’ve remained pretty tight within the 233-240 lbs range – mainly down to lack of exercise and lazy eating habits, which are so easy when I share the house with two under-tens and a good lady wife (GLW) who adores anything with chocolate in it. Not that they’re to blame – I’m the lazy ingester.

With my history of up and down, rapid gain, rapid loss, fad-based eating, I decided about 6 weeks ago to go back to basics, lots of fruit and veg, protein enhanced meals, and cutting out refined carbs as much as reasonable (no bans or deprivation here). Of course, I’m now regularly exercising at karate and my fitness is coming back all the time. So far, I’m down about 8 lbs in six weeks, not too rapid and the lifestyle changes are enjoyable, so I seem to be nailing the psychology as well.

Which brings us to ketchup.

Here I am sitting in Pigs Fly, eating a very nice avocado, bacon and cheese omelet and staring at the bottle of ketchup on the table. To all intents and purposes, it looked like a bottle of Heinz ketchup, but it was labeled as a generic, not the “real stuff”. Now, here I am, thinking that I haven’t tasted ketchup in a while and that when I do have it now, it tastes ridiculously sweet, not at all natural. Like the difference between pure olive oil/balsamic vinegar you put together yourself, compared with a store-bought balsamic dressing. And I was thinking how I would really like something with a similar texture to Heinz ketchup – which is, for most, the definition of ketchup – but with the health and quality ingredients you might expect from Whole Foods or, to use a stock phrase, like “your grandmother would make”

[my Nan never made her own ketchup, but she was the queen of apple pie and crumble, so I’ll take a bit of artistic license in using the phrase]

which got me thinking of Starbucks Via sachets.

And how people are willing to pay up for the suggestion/experience of unique quality.

Here’s what I mean (rounded figures for illustration).

  • Nescafé gourmet blend: $10 for 80 cups – 13c per cup
  • Starbucks Via instant coffee: $10 for 12 cups – 83c per cup
  • Starbucks drip coffee – $1.90 per cup

Now, unless you’re a truly, deeply, crazily nuance coffee drinker, I’m going to argue that there isn’t a significant taste differential between Nescafé and Starbucks Via. Particularly if you add any sort of sweetener to it. And even if there is

[and I confess here that I prefer Via to Nescafé, though I choose not to drink it at home]

the suggestion that it’s worth paying over 6x as much for the pleasure just doesn’t ring true. Even worse when you have to travel to Starbucks to pay over 14x compared to a cup of Nescafé. I’m not arguing the taste or merits of either product, I’m simply showing that with the requisite brand presence, people are willing to pay SILLY multiples to buy something that really isn’t that different to what they already have.

So to ketchup.

I haven’t been to the local grocery store to check, but surely there’s room in the market to hijack some of Heinz Tomato Ketchup’s market share with a “much better” ketchup?

I did a quick search on google for “world’s best ketchup” and found it has already been tried, but the clear contender with brand recognition hasn’t yet emerged. It doesn’t look like the issue is with the product, but instead the branding/marketing.

So, the idea here is to apply the Starbucks/Samuel Adams ethos to ketchup, expanding from mom and pop to the ‘ketchup of choice for discerning, health conscious ketchup users’.

And the market? Well, aside from the true connoisseurs of everything ketchupified

[did I mention I make up words?]

spend some time in your local fast food joint watching people ordering ketchup free burgers, or scraping the sauces out of a pre-prepared meal. Though that may sound oxymoronic, and that people eating fast food aren’t serious about healthy eating, look past your initial reaction. These are people who, despite the ready availability of way-too-many calories are trying… They’re trying… And the company who makes that trying just a little bit easier, and enjoyable at the same time, will build brand loyalty that extends to home and other food outlets.

That’s how Starbucks can charge up to 14x for a cup of coffee. They make getting gourmet coffee easy and enjoyable, and charge you for your pleasure.