Heinz ketchup isn't just one among many; it is the ketchup, the one against which all others are judged. As others have noted, Heinz is more or less synonymous with ketchup. But in Israel, following a lobbying campaign by a competitor, the health ministry decided it can no longer be called ketchup. Instead, it must be designated as "tomato seasoning."
Osem, a food manufacturer that dominates the Israeli market, was clearly looking to put the squeeze on Heinz.
In January, the company sent a letter to retailers stating it had tested Heinz ketchup in a "leading European laboratory," according to The Times of Israel.
The tests reportedly showed the ketchup only contained 21-per-cent tomato concentrate.
According to Israeli food standards, a sauce must contain at least 41-per-cent tomato concentrate to be considered ketchup.
Given that standard, the Israeli health ministry has ruled that Heinz's product cannot be labelled a "ketchup."
Heinz has filed a petition to have the local definition of ketchup changed, the Independent reports.
"The word Ketchup is indicated in English on the front of the bottle while recognizing that the Israeli standard for ketchup has yet to be brought in line with U.S. and European accepted international standards, the back label of our ketchup sold in Israel reflects current local requirements for ingredient labelling and the Hebrew name for the product," Heinz's director of corporate and government affairs told the newspaper.
As anyone knows, of course, who has watched "small batch" products roll out from international megaconglomerates, or has sat down for a healthy breakfast that is actually mostly sugar, the world of food is often filled with misleading claims and differing official standards, or often no standards whatsoever.
In 2012, the makers of Nutella agreed to pay $3-million to settle four class-action lawsuits filed in the United States that alleged that the brand misled customers by claiming it was "nutritious" and "healthy" when really it is composed mostly of sugar and modified palm oil.
Some misleading food products can be easy to spot. The nutrition information on a jar of Nutella is enough to give it away, for example. Misleading food terms, however, have proliferated so widely in recent years that it can seem impossible to figure out what they actually mean. Is this cheese artisanal? Is this pasta traditional?
Is anyone else laughing at the combination of "Starbucks" and "small batch"?
Trendy foodie words are too often marketing tools unmoored from any meaning in the real world. They are thrown around to appeal to our collective self-image as people who eat only farm-raised local organic small-batch artisanal whatever.
Very rarely does anyone regulate these words, so their abuse runs rampant.
This year, however, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland published very clear definitions of words that are frequently abused by the food industry.
For example, any food labelled "traditional" should be made from a recipe that has lasted, without significant change, for at least 30 years.
The word "artisan" can only be used to describe products made in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople using traditional methods, and the company that makes them must be one that employs fewer than 10 people and makes less than €2-million ($3.07-million) a year.
The definitions aren't legally binding, but they help provide clarity in cases where a company is accused of misleading consumers.
Of course, we can all debate whether or not Heinz ketchup actually qualifies as ketchup. But there's still nothing that tastes better on a grilled-cheese sandwich.