Unilever tries to put a dent in Heinz’s ketchup supremacy

Sir Kensington's is bringing its premium positioning to Canada, but entering an established category is an uphill battle.


When it comes to the battle for condiment supremacy, it’s all about playing “ketchup” with dominant category player Heinz, which has more than three quarters of the country’s market according to Nielsen.

Made from organic sugar cane and fresh tomatoes, Sir Kensington’s – a brand Unilever purchased in 2017 – comes complete with top hat, mustache and monocle branding, to emphasize its premium positioning.

Sir Kensington’s is coming to the Canadian market with two varieties, classic and spicy.

At shelf, it’s going after consumers with end cap displays (see, below) and is currently offering a point-of-sale $2.50 coupon for the remainder of the summer. Buyers can find the coupons attached to the Sir Kensington’s ketchup bottles, which can be found in a grocery store’s natural food or condiments aisles.

kensington-ketchup-shopper-imageTo celebrate the new product launch, assisted by PR firm Edelman, Sir Kensington’s is acknowledging its current place in the market by going small, an approach befitting being a “little guy” in the condiment world, and partnering with restaurants.

The brand is linking up with four prominent chefs in Toronto who emphasize quality, deliciousness, and socially conscious food and ingredients, in line with the brand’s sustainability and non-GMO ethos. Each one has created specialty menu items – available in-restaurant and through delivery apps – highlighting the flavour profile of the two ketchup SKUs.

To further amplify the campaign, the Unilever brand is using geotargeted paid media to drive traffic to the partner restaurants and trial for their limited-time menu items.

Sylvain Charlebois, senior director at the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, tells strategy that in the ketchup space, it’s an uphill climb for any challenger, as Kraft Heinz defined the category with years of brand capital, and has a wealth of marketing resources at its disposal. 

“If you’re looking at entering the product with a new market, it’s much easier to go into a growing market, than try to steal business from a very powerful brand,” Charlebois says.

Category growth is hampered by multiple competing condiment and flavouring options, but reports do suggest there is opportunity for organic as an overarching food trend.

kensington-ketchup-shopper-image2Some people will care about Sir Kensington’s non-GMO, organic and premium positioning, Charlebois says, but with condiments “you need the majority to care” to move the needle.

Private label is making incursions into the space as well. “Of all the brands, the private label are the ones most often on sale,” Charlebois notes.

It’s also a product that is purchased every four to six months, so when people shop the aisle, they tend to be driven by price.

Changing habits, because of the buying cycle, is therefore more difficult to do than it is for milk or butter, Charlebois maintains.

During the Canadian ketchup wars, in which McCormick brand French’s emphasized its “Canadian-ness,” it only added five points to its market share, Charlebois says – an important gain for French’s, but not enough to challenge Kraft Heinz’s domination, unless that gain were to become sequential and continue for some time.

French’s has been trying to drive that Canadiana focus even further and increasing perceptions that it’s a more “local” brand than market leader Kraft Heinz.

This past winter, it launched a social-led #MyHomeisCanada campaign alongside skater Scott Moir, showcasing favored local images, part of McCormick tapping “The preference for local products…heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Skip ahead a season, and French’s is now pushing for a “Wear Your Local Pride” movement, collaborating with Quebec Visual Artist, Antoine Tava, in which ketchup stains are being transformed into a symbol of pride for all things local, a movement embodied in an official tshirt.

Not to be outdone, Kraft Heinz is now more “local” too. Six years after infamously moving production of the condiment to the United States, it’s back and being manufactured out of Montreal.