Published on 05/17/02

Green or Purple, It's Still Just Ketchup

Moms have always known that kids are looking for something different to eat. Now the food industry is catching on, moving at a fast pace toward the kid market.

Purple and green ketchup, blue and pink butter, cookies and snacks that change colors in your mouth or your milk -- these are just a few examples of the latest color craze.

Why market to children when parents are the ones doing the shopping and holding the purse strings?

"When my kids begged for green ketchup, I totally refused when I saw the higher price tag," said Sharon Omahen, a Jackson, Ga., mother of two. "I told them they could buy it with their own money, and they did!"

Once she realized how eager her children were to get the ketchup, she was able to use it to her advantage.

"I've used the purple ketchup as a treat to reward them for good behavior, and I've also bought the pink butter," Omahen said. "Actually, I just bought the butter because it has a flip-top and easy dispenser. But my younger daughter was thrilled. Now she makes pink faces and designs on her morning waffles."

Can You Taste Color?

The ketchup's zany colors may entice children, but many adults pass it by because of the altered taste they associate with the color.

Just because her kids eat it doesn't mean Omahen does. "They always beg their Dad and me to try it, and I finally did," she said. "I know mentally that it's just ketchup, but the green color makes it taste awful to me. My husband won't even try it."

University of Georgia food science professor Rob Shewfelt assures wary customers that "flavors are colorless, and colors are flavorless."

A food scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Shewfelt has studied food colorings and how they relate to consumer acceptance of new food products.

While a few drops of food coloring won't change the actual flavor of the products, Shewfelt says, "color does influence our perception of flavor." Because people associate color with different tastes, changing the typical color leads them to think the flavor has changed.

Mystery E-Z Sqeeze

Heinz, developers of the odd-colored ketchups, originally decided to offer purple ketchup when the Harry Potter books became popular.

"Boys and girls alike love the cool purple color," said Brian Hansberry, vice president of marketing for ketchup, condiments and sauces at Heinz North America.

Heinz introduced the mystery "EZ Squirt" ketchup this year in three more colors: pink, orange and teal. A deceptive bottle keeps the ketchup color a secret.

Shewfelt said children and adults react differently to these new "crazy-colored" products.

"Adults ask 'Why?' and kids usually just say 'Because it's cool!'" Shewfelt said. "The answer to 'Why?' is because so many of us, myself included, do think it's so 'Cool'!"