Seriously, this is big stuff, especially if you are one of the millions who have been frustrated out of your skull trying open one of the confounded little things. “Tear Here.” Yeah, right! Most people go caveman and resort to using their teeth. Some pull out pocket knives or other sharp objects. Some just curse and throw the wretched things back in the bag, opting to do without rather than risk their sanity.
There is one enormously successful way to open a ketchup packet. I learned this method quite accidentally when I showed up at work with what appeared to my coworkers to be a serious leg wound, blood staining my lower pants leg all the way to the knee. Somebody had carelessly dropped one of the accursed condiment packets on the floor of my car and I unknowingly stepped on it at some point. So take my word for it, tromping one of the accursed little things is extremely effective if not entirely practical.
In light of that incident, it seems strange to me that the second largest complaint about ketchup packets is volume. Most people seem to think they simply don't contain enough ketchup. (My dry cleaner would disagree.) I suppose that's why most fast food places drop about three pounds of them into your takeout bag.
At any rate, the news from Pittsburgh is that the H.J. Heinz Company, after three arduous years of R&D, has come up with a solution to both issues. Now lest you think I am kidding about the “arduous” part, it is being reported that Heinz researchers spent hours behind one-way glass observing the frustrations of test consumers situated in simulated minivan interiors as they struggled to open conventional ketchup packets for their fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets. Even more, the vice-president of global packaging innovation and execution went out and bought himself a used minivan, which he proceeded to drive around to various fast food drive-ins, ordering fries and attempting to put ketchup on them in the confines of the van. Wow! Such dedication to research!
The new design is kind of cool – and pretty simple, too. It's a little plastic tray shaped like a ketchup bottle. It has a foil lid and you can either tear off the “cap” – a strip near the top – for squeezing, or you can peel back a lower corner for dipping. Ingenious, huh? And they contain three times as much ketchup as the traditional packets so consumers won't have to grab double-handfuls of them anymore, a good thing for vendors since the new containers are also about three times as expensive as the old ones.
In fact, one Heinz official even attributes a decline in “fry inclusion” orders at drive-thrus to an increased level of consumer frustration with recalcitrant ketchup packets. He apparently believes people would rather forgo their fries than fight with the foil packets. In light of the current trend toward more healthy eating, I rather think the French fry fall-off may be more the result of people making other choices, but if the man in charge of making food-service ketchup packets wants to hold onto his illusions, I won't naysay him.
Truth be told, I don't eat ketchup on my French fries – or on anything else for that matter – so I don't really have a dog in this fight. However, I have assisted my wife and kids in their struggles, so I can at least relate. But if you are one of the millions for whom this innovation will mark a vast improvement in quality of life, I'm happy for you. Just keep your new and improved ketchup packets off the floor of my car.