Catching Up on Condiments

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France recently banned ketchup in school cafeterias—except, oddly enough, on French fries. First offered in 1876, ketchup today is an American staple condiment and in some circles is considered a vegetable. France is outside of those circles.

But ketchup is big business: annual US sales approach $500M. To see who’s best positioned to capture some of that revenue, Compete assessed where consumers researching “ketchup” across major search engines were ultimately referred. We included only referrals to sites in Compete’s food-related categories and those whose URLs contained key terms. Categories include “cooking,” “food and groceries,” and “restaurants & dining.” URL key words include “ketchup” and leading ketchup brand names. The analysis covered aggregate behavior in key what is arguably during the heart of ketchup season (July to September).

Cooking With Ketchup

The leading destinations for “ketchup” searches is cooks.com, followed by allrecipes.com. Consumer could have been looking for how to make their own ketchup, or perhaps creative ways to use ketchup in recipes (such as cooks.com’s “ketchup baked meatloaf”). Heinz, with 50% of the US ketchup market, has the highest-ranking brand site with Hunt’s a few notches down.

Not Concentrated

Ketchup search results suggest that consumer interest is fragmented.  The top 10 ketchup search results total just 13%–meaning 87% is going elsewhere.  No doubt some is to YouTube to watch the band “Las Ketchup” sing their big hit “Aserejé” (no kidding, over 35M plays!).  But the 13% also may be the result of a large number of entities trying to capture even a drop of a half-billon-dollar market: More outlets vying for the same attention dilutes the likely impact of any one.

For context, Compete compared the concentration of ketchup search to that for “catsup,” “mustard,” and “salsa” using the same approach.  The chart below shows the sum of the top 10 referral shares for food-related sites and those with keyword-containing-URLs specific to each category.

“Catsup” has the most concentrated results: top 10 shares total 27%.  The high concentration reflects strength by cooks.com, which captured 10% of catsup searches (not shown).  Allrecipes.com and cooks.com dominate the “mustard” search results, with 5% and 4% respectively (not shown).

But salsa is the big news.  Annual US salsa sales are estimated to be about $800 million—much bigger than the ketchup market.   Yet salsa search referrals are far more concentrated: the top 10 food-related results captured over 25% of “salsa” referrals.  That concentration implies the top 10 salsa-referred sites are in a better position to capture salsa interest—and related revenue—than are the top 10 ketchup sites.


Pouring It On

With combined sales of about $1.25 billion across ketchup and salsa, there’s a lot at stake.   The internet gives consumers unprecedented access to food and nutrition information, but interest can be redirected in a heartbeat—accidentally or by design—because the variety of online distractions.  Logical next steps to best leverage online condiment interest into sales include the following:

  • Use search volume and destination tracking as a bellwether for the health of the US condiment market: Changes in search volumes and destinations can shed light on whether consumers turn to more high-end condiments and/or less inclined to make their own as the US economy recovers.
  • Identify the best message to capture salsa interest: Identify how consumers research salsa online, including sites and search terms, and what they are looking for.  Use that to inform message content to preserve your current traffic or conquest others’.  Do the same for ketchup.
  • Identify the best placements to capture ketchup and salsa interest: Identify sites across the web highly visited by ketchup and salsa prospects that today have little condiment advertising to inform where to place advertising.

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About Lincoln Merrihew:
Lincoln Merrihew is the Vice President of Transportation at Millward Brown Digital. At Millward Brown Digital, Lincoln is responsible for steering the Transportation Team, which encompasses the automotive and travel practices. Before Lincoln joined the Millward Brown Digital team, he worked at TNS Custom leading the Automotive team, and then continued on there to lead business development for 10 different industry verticals. Lincoln's career aspiration is to create game-changing solutions and insights. Connect with Lincoln on LinkedIn.