I was having lunch with Eric Brown of The Urbane Lab last week, discussing innovation and how to find “the next big thing.” Eric picked up the Heinz Ketchup bottle on the table and said: “look at ketchup, all they did was turn the bottle upside down.” That simple innovation revived the ketchup industry, but it turns out that simplicity wasn’t so simple.
In the late 90’s ketchup sales were flat. The industry was looking for a way to get people to consume more ketchup. Even though the answer was sitting right in front of them on the table, the ketchup industry couldn’t see it. Heinz first thought the answer was to make green, even purple, colored ketchup. But people didn’t want multi-colored ketchup, they wanted easier ketchup. Consumers were tired of sticking a knife down a narrow bottle neck to clear the blockage, only to have an excess glob of ketchup come pouring out on to their fries. The upside-down ketchup bottle solved this problem. It got more ketchup out of the bottle, but it also got it out of the bottle neatly.
The upside-down innovation created another opportunity. Because people could now get more ketchup out of the bottle, the industry suspected that consumers would want…more ketchup! So they made bigger bottles. With the larger upside-down bottle, people started using more and more ketchup. They consumed the larger bottles almost as quickly as they consumed the smaller bottles. When the bottle size moved from 24 to 46 ounces, people consumed 78 percent more ketchup!
You are hampered by the curse of knowledge. But just like the ketchup industry, innovation may be sitting right in front of you on the table. Look at your current product or service. What can you turn upside down to increase demand? If you do, will customers want a bigger container?