What do you do when changing the Heinz Ketchup bottle won't necessarily help?

Many of us will know the old UI / UX analogy of the Heinz’ ketchup bottle: the original, glass bottle is functional while the improvement is clearly superior in allowing the user to get to the ketchup, but did this move actually help Heinz sell more ketchup?

One of the barriers I’m facing when trying to scale up UX at my company is that we’re a bit of a Heinz company; people buy our ketchup because it’s the best and they put up with a glass bottle because the tasty, tasty ketchup is so worth it. (Note: we don’t actually sell ketchup, it’s a metaphor.)

It’s compounded by the fact that our ketchup is sold through large deals direct to other corporations (who don’t use our ketchup), which provide that ketchup to their staff as the only option. It’s purchased based on the world-renowned quality of ingredients and research that we have, but none of our competition do.

To add a little more context: we’re also a not-for-profit, very large organisation, who puts as much of our surplus to good causes, so there’s always a goal of increasing our contribution, despite not much going on with financial optimisation. This can run counter to investing in UX that doesn’t generate return.

If I look at the HEART framework, by Google, for example:

  • Happiness
  • Engagement
  • Adoption
  • Retention
  • Task Success

Happiness, engagement, Adoption and Retention have no effect on units sold as we don’t sell to the user, but to someone who forces the product down on the user and they can’t move. Task Success is something independently measurable and I could make the case that this affects the costs that a customer has to incur and the costs we have to incur through support, but again, it doesn’t shift sales as the end user just has to put up with it.

A common approach is working to key objectives and KPIs, but the trouble here is that we don’t often work to KPIs outside of sales and quality of ketchup, which we have limited direct influence over.

What about empathising with stakeholder needs? This is partly affected by the lack of KPIs and partly due to a (possibly correct) interpretation that the ketchup is the only thing that matters in this model - either way there’s little unity in stakeholder needs, or burning desire to cause revolution as most of them are too busy making ketchup to think about the bottle, which doesn’t sell.

We have company values and vision / goals, but these are addressed by initiatives that appear and carry out work in a slightly invisible way and never appear anywhere near the bottle. Outside of these initiatives, projects don’t have these values and goals built into them and they’re not measured on how well they contribute or conflict with them.

Sure we can save money by creating better designs, which will cut back on support needs, but there’s a view that this is an accepted cost.

The ketchup we create is where we put all of our R&D and it’s the key thing that the purchaser is interested in.

The problem I’m faced with as a UX practitioner is I know how frustrating it is for people to have to deal with a glass ketchup bottle and this kind of thing is the reason I work so hard, why I fight for the end user so hard and why I’ve training myself up for so long, but I don’t have much of an argument for change if we have a captive market that has very little chance of changing.

We deal in ketchup that literally affects the future course of people’s lives, so people may respond to an ethical approach but we also have classic hierarchy and ownership challenges which can prevent people from championing change and championing causes.

How do I change the bottle so the user’s life is filled with a more satisfying, less frustrating ketchup’y life?


Wow. Awesome challenge! It sounds like you need to drive some pretty fundamental culture change within the organisation. Is that feasible?


Make user stories about unhappy staff causing loses for corporation? And about your new design preventing corporations from failing due to happier workers.


Heinz sell over 57 varieties. How many do you sell?

Not everybody likes ketchup, some prefer brown sauce.

Sorry that’s the best I can do on a Friday afternoon.


Something one of my sergeants used to tell me was, “Show me, don’t tell me.” Is there any way you can do that, or do you have to get everyone on board before you can start to develop the solution?

Hey Hawk.
Good question. Maybe. I’ve been trying to pull strings behind the scenes for a long time with mixed results. They say that you should find your allies and use them - that has made a difference. There’s lots it’s of change afoot here, so things may also start to fall into place as part of that (lots of high ups are on board with change and customer centricity, but as a company we haven’t yet answered what that means).


Hey AnLev,
A good idea. My analogy might fall apart here a little, but essentially there is a situation where the end user MUST buy our product. Of course that doesn’t stop them from rightly complaining if there’s something not up to scratch, but that voice may realistically have little influence over corporation-corporation deals.

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Hey Rachel,
A couple of dozen flavours. The awkward relationship is that users must purchase certain ones, as dictated by corporation-corporation agreements. I know that sounds a bit hard to imagine…I’m trying not to be too explicit about my situation. xD

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Hey Piper,
It’s a valid approach for a lot of situations. I’ve done it for a couple of projects / products but the value isn’t really captured as we don’t have measurement-based success metrics. Positive customer feedback has been received, but without ROI it’s a tough argument to sustain.

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And apologies for all the typos. One day it’ll be easy to type on your phone…


Well… I’m thinking, maybe you could give us more specific details and a good idea may pop up.
And one more thing, it seems to me that the end user is the corporation and not their staff. But I may be wrong here.

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One of the problems we’re having is the idea that all puchasers of Ketchup, are defined only by the characteristics of flexibility, safety, ease-of use and that isn’t true. There are other reasons why users make that choice, especially now. I know many people who will not buy anything packaged in plastic. It all boils down to not making assumptions about a user’s reason for a choice.


Hwy AnLev,
By end user I meant the actual individual using the product (which in my case isnt the purchaser).

Hmm, more details…perhaps let’s use this fake, but similar scenario:

Some job interviews require you to take an exam to get the job. Imagine we produce those exams. The employer’s got a vested interest in finding the best potential employee, but they’ve had a good success rate so far with the exam, so they’re not concerned about it. The end user however must take an exam that’s terribly written and has a super confusing UI. In this scenario be only person who is obviously losing out is the end user.

How can you make the case for better UX in that scenario?

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I think the important thing here is to remember why we invest in UX. And in the essence of it, it is all about increasing profits, winning competition, retaining customers and stuff like that. One of the approaches in your case I would say is to offer ways for your company to increase profit. Maybe new bottles will be cheaper to make, or be more nature-friendly so you can cut on taxes. Or you can sell the idea of better bottles to your client corporations as a mean of increasing the loyalty of their staff (if you get cool ketchup bottles, you are less likely to leave) and thus bring more money to your company. I believe UX is justified by profit otherwise why UX at all. I would look into where the money is :slight_smile: