Timely Communications Can Create A Real Point Of Differentiation, Even When The Message Is About Tomatoes

In today’s age of immediate consumer access to information, timely communications can create a real point of differentiation in a highly competitive marketplace. Even when the message is about tomatoes.

Five years ago, Heinz moved its manufacturing operations from Leamington, Ontario to the United States. It was a corporate decision regarding operations, which presumably no one thought would pick up much consumer interest. They were wrong. What happened next caused Heinz to suffer a significant loss of market share – and offers a valuable lesson in the power of adapting quickly to market changes and connecting with consumers when it matters most. 

Heinz’s major condiment competitor, French’s, reacted immediately to the manufacturing move, informing consumers that its ketchup was still made with Canadian tomatoes. It was a savvy marketing play; French’s communication went viral. Purchasing their ketchup became a symbol of Canadian pride, and sales skyrocketed. In a category where purchase decisions are based on habit and new brands have a hard time making inroads, French’s was able to gain an enormous 5% market share. Heinz, on the other hand, has seen its share of the market drop 6.2% since 2015.

French’s success hinged largely on the speed with which it responded to the Heinz move and the tact with which it used the news to quickly capture the attention—and hearts—of Canadians. Other factors were at play too; the company earned valuable free publicity when it started bottling its ketchup in Canada, making it a 100% Canadian product from plant to bottle. It also benefited from retaliatory tariffs imposed by the Canadian government on certain U.S. imports, including condiments.

The French’s success story is proof of the power of timely, responsive communications. If executed smartly, they allow companies to capitalize on competitor missteps, improve their relationships with consumers, heighten brand awareness, increase market share, and generate overall growth for their business.