Ketchup, in North America, generally comes in one flavor. It’s that familiar sugary taste with a hint of what is supposedly tomato. It doesn’t really taste like a tomato though. It’s different elsewhere, like in Germany, where it seems to be more juicy. But in North America, there’s one generally accepted flavor.
People know what they’re getting with ketchup. They know how much a bottle of it will cost at the costco, the grocery store, or the convenience store. They have a firm idea of what to expect. It’s ketchup.
There’s a general expectation around ketchup. That’s is clean and easy to use. Most of the time it comes in those squeezy bottles, an advancement in usability that has been absolutely awesome. Sometimes you have to really shake a glass bottle. Here’s a pro-tip: try gently knocking the far end of it to loosen the ketchup and enable air pressure to assist gravity. It’s very rare that anybody really plans ahead by keeping the bottle on it’s head. It’s not something that is at the top of mind for everybody.
What comes out is generally the same.
It’s been standardized.
The consequence is that everybody gets used to it. Yeah, yeah, I have to budget ten cents for every burger I sell for ketchup. Whatever. Nobody ever really eats the burger for the ketchup. Nobody ever really says ‘wow, that was great ketchup’. Certainly, I believe that most people would miss the ketchup if it wasn’t there. They’d say, ‘wow, what an incredibly dry burger’, but they wouldn’t always be aware that there was no ketchup there. And that’s the thing. Most people can afford ketchup. It’s a condiment. A commodity condiment. It’s mass market.
Most would complain if the taste of the ketchup was off. Everybody wants to standardize. And they’d be fine with getting the generic store brand so long as it tasted like the standard. Maybe the label or the bottle isn’t as nice. But it’s basically the same taste. But if it’s off by just a little bit, well, that’s an outrage. There should maximal transferability between ketchup brands, with no tolerance for deviation.
And that’s okay. That’s ketchup. You know what you’re getting.
Mustard, on the other hand, comes in loads of varieties. There’s French’s Yellow Mustard. That’s pretty common. But then there’s Dijon. And Honey Dijon. And Gray Poupon. And a whole sequence of old world mustards like Tewkesbury horseradish mustard.
You never quite know what you’re going to get, and it’s frequently to taste once you get familiar with it. Lots of people relish the mustard. It completes the burger. The vast majority of people really don’t know what they’re missing. They got no clue. So, naturally, so many people go without the deliciousness of mustard to complete their experience. They never experience the tangy highs of prickly bear honey mustard. They never fully experience the vinegary flavor of russian mustard. And naturally, unless you naturally seek those out, and see the value in that, you’re never going to really seek them out, and pay for them. Now, sure, you have to budget 20 cents for a really nice mustard for any burger. But it’s well worth it. And makes the whole experience different.
And then there’s the burger.
You’d notice if the burger wasn’t there. The burger is the whole point. It’s the whole reason for coming to the burger stand.
Burgers vary in quality and size. You got your standard McDonald’s and Burger King Burgers. One is round and one is square. They’re cut to the same standards and are the same anywhere. You have your Toronto Street Meat burger. It’s pretty much the same everywhere. You have those Gourmet Burgers that tend to be far thicker and contain a better meat to fat ratio. There’s a fair bit of variety in that too. And then you have destination burgers. Like, burgers made from Kobe beef, and just the right amount of fat added. They’re also amazing because they can be cooked to medium-well, with a juicy flavor explosion so amazing and dazzling. It’s like a party in your mouth and everybody is using a watergun.
Now that I’ve appeared in multiple social media monitoring accounts (hi guys), I’ll unpack this whole analogy.
The industry is centered on ketchup because ketchup is predictable and comparable. Never mind that we don’t really actually engage in real comparisons. But it’s rooted there. And is it any wonder why nobody really respects the ketchup. It’s just ketchup. It’s alright condiment. I’d categorize a lot of the activity going on out there as ketchup. Sure, it’s important and it complements a burger. But really. No.
There’s a thriving industry around mustard out there. It’s a niche industry. We got some people doing some pretty amazing things with usability analytics and morphing. We have an emerging neuro-analytical industry (a particularly spicy kind of mustard). And that aspect is very, very good. It costs a little more. But fundamentally, it goes with the burger.
The condiment industry has one thing in common with these types of analytics. Nobody ever sits down and eats a whole container of mustard or ketchup. [Edit: For the one person who emailed me telling me that he does, indeed, eat a whole container of mustard. Congratulations.] Mustard doesn’t eat like a meal. Neither does ketchup.
And what of the burgers? Burgers certainly eat like a meal. They’re the main attraction.
The fundamental challenge is how to get out of the mindset of forcing ketchup
Note: Special thanks to Stephane Hamel who provoked this rant at eMetrics Toronto.