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The truth behind Heinz 57 varieties

Not 57 ketchups, stupid

H. J. Heinz
H. J. Heinz

Dear Matthew Alice: On a bottle of Heinz ketchup it says there are “57 varieties.” What are the other 56? — Dave R., San Diego

I can only hope that Matthew Alice doesn’t have to tell you those “57 varieties” refer to the full array of Heinz’s products, not to 57 varieties of ketchup. Good. Just checking. Never overestimate the brain power of your correspondents, that’s my motto. In fact, the 57 is and always was a bogus number. At least to everyone but H.J. Heinz, the condiment baron who founded the company in the mid-1800s. He stole the idea from a shoe store ad that bragged of offering 20 different styles. Apparently he reasoned that if the slogan will sell shoes, it’ll sell horseradish. The company already made 60 or 70 varieties of packaged foods, but H.J. liked the sound of “57,” so “57” it’s been ever since. No one was going to question the guy who’d cornered the U.S. bottled-gherkin market.

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H. J. Heinz
H. J. Heinz

Dear Matthew Alice: On a bottle of Heinz ketchup it says there are “57 varieties.” What are the other 56? — Dave R., San Diego

I can only hope that Matthew Alice doesn’t have to tell you those “57 varieties” refer to the full array of Heinz’s products, not to 57 varieties of ketchup. Good. Just checking. Never overestimate the brain power of your correspondents, that’s my motto. In fact, the 57 is and always was a bogus number. At least to everyone but H.J. Heinz, the condiment baron who founded the company in the mid-1800s. He stole the idea from a shoe store ad that bragged of offering 20 different styles. Apparently he reasoned that if the slogan will sell shoes, it’ll sell horseradish. The company already made 60 or 70 varieties of packaged foods, but H.J. liked the sound of “57,” so “57” it’s been ever since. No one was going to question the guy who’d cornered the U.S. bottled-gherkin market.

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