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Heinz loses our taste test – are we ‘brand’ brainwashed?

Ketchup bottles

Do you automatically reach for the Heinz ketchup as you race round the supermarket? Shock news – it might not be as tasty as the own label alternatives – but would you be persuaded to change?

This month we carried out a blind taste test of ketchup comparing branded and supermarket own brands.

Of all the ketchup bought in the UK 60% of it is Heinz – but despite its popularity our consumer panel of 130 scored it poorly. In fact, it came joint second from the bottom out of the 13 sauces tested. Our tasters rated Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco ketchups the best.

And when we did the same test with baked beans last year the findings, although not as extreme, were not dissimilar. Heinz came joint 4th behind Branston, Asda and Morrisons baked beans.

Yet despite these findings I still buy Heinz Baked beans and ketchup.

What’s on your plate?

It’s odd as there are some items I always buy branded and others where I don’t really care. And judging by a previous Conversation we ran on this topic, I’m not alone. Our poll asked ‘What do you think of supermarket own-label food?’ – and 76% of you said ‘it varies so I buy according to product.’

I always buy ‘Weetabix’ but am happy to buy a supermarket’s own brand of ‘Fruit and Fibre’. I buy Fairy liquid and washing detergent but buy own brand bleach. And I’m happy to buy own brand pasta but prefer Tilda rice. I always buy own brand cheese as I’ve yet to find a brand that offers a strong, mature cheddar but buy brand yoghurts.

Are brands brainwashing us?

Thinking about it, there doesn’t seem to be any logic to my choices. I think I’m just set in my ways – I know what we like at home so I stick to it. I guess I don’t want to risk buying something that I won’t like which will then go to waste. At least that’s what I think, but maybe I’ve just been brainwashed over the years by clever marketing?

Are you surprised by the findings of our taste test? Do you always buy branded or own brand products or, like me, a mix of both?

Laura says:
17 May 2011

I very rarely buy branded products as I’ve always found own brand ones to be just as good if not better. I don’t like Heinz beans or ketchup, they taste “metallic” to me! The only branded product I do regularly buy is Diet Pepsi – I’ve tried various other brands but none of them taste as good.
I used to know someone who always insisted on buying branded products – until she went on a tour of a washing powder factory where she was shown the same powder being poured into both brand name and own brand boxes!

Ben says:
1 March 2012

a tour of a washing powder factory? why would anybody do that through choice?

Laura, I’ve heard a lot of stories about the same product being put into different branded boxes, but always wondered if there was a difference. For example, in the case you describe, could it be that the two different boxes contained the same powder but with a slightly different proportion of additives? Does anyone know the answer?

Laura says:
1 March 2012

Ben she was a lorry driver who came to pick up from the factory, and the factory manager for some reason thought she’d like to have a look round – she was too polite to say no! Although she said she did actually find it quite interesting in the end!
Clint I really don’t know, never thought of that possibility before but it does make sense!

For years we always used to have nothing but Heinz beans until we read in Which? that Branston had proved more popular for taste in the survey. Feeling it was worth a try, we agreed and were converted to Branston beans.
A couple of weeks ago, the shop only had Heinz so we bought some as ‘Beanz is beanz’.
However, partner ate some the other night & refuses to eat them again!
So it is certainly worth trying different brands occasionally – sometimes you end up being very surprised by the results!
I am now far more willing to deviate from our ‘regular’ brands.

Simon says:
18 May 2011

I switched to Branston Beans after I got annoyed with Heinz for pulling the ‘gay’ kiss advert that wasn’t even a gay kiss. And actually Branston Beans are much nicer, so I’ve never changed back.

Sometimes when you think you’ve switched brand you actually haven’t at all though – HP, for example, is actually made by Heinz anyway. So if you really want to switch brand for any reason you have to read the back of the packet!

Smackthetwit says:
26 May 2011

Of course it’s a change of Brand. If it’s a different recipe it’s a different product, even if the same ‘Big Company’ is behind it. You might as well say that KLM is exactly the same as Air France. Or that Skoda is exactly the same brand as Volkswagen. Or that Cadburys is the same as Kraft ! In any event, it was surely a daft reason you had to try another product ! Most people choose their Brands on taste/price. To make a food choice based on something as irrelevant to the product as ‘gay kissing’ says a lot about you.

fishtaster says:
16 July 2015

Cadbury’s chocolate has undergone a severe degradation in quality since it sold out to Kraft. I used to love it, now I gag on it.

In a similar vein to Simon’s point above, many people don’t realise that almost all of the major pet foods are owned by only three major companies, Nestles, Proctor & Gamble, and Mars.
Marketed under various brands, many complete dog/cat foods are manufactured in the same place with only very slight (often ‘visual’ and more for the owners benefit!) differences. The prices can be hugely different though!

Trust danny to talk about dog food 😉

But you’re right, lots of brands are actually owned by other companies – just have a look at our ‘ethical brands’ Convo – there are lots of surprises in there: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/find-out-who-really-owns-our-ethical-food-brands/

And brands are everything in most foods and products. If they didn’t mean anything, Tesco and Asda would have the monopoly simply due to price.

But Patrick, I AM a Dog (Welsh Springer Spaniel to be exact! 🙂 ) – so dog foods are naturally the VERY top of my priorities 🙂

Seriously, it really is amazing just how many consumers do not realise how much ‘control’ of the market a very small number of extremely large conglomerates have of the market. I may jokingly have highlighted pet food (yummy, yummy…..isn’t it tea time yet?)…..but this is reflected in so many other products where consumers do not realise almost exactly the same product is being marketed under differing brand names.

Sorry, definitely past a little dogs bed time now – more serious thought put aside until tomorrow!

David Smith says:
5 April 2017

Some Cadbury chocolate isn’t even made by Cadbury – it’s made by a third party in Belgium.

kath says:
18 May 2011

I also automatically go for the Heinz when choosing Ketchup, but these days I tend to wait for the deals. I will definately be trying the own branded stuff from now on though. I havent bought Heinz baked beans for years, I always go for the Supermarket value range along with Chopped tomatoes, Sainsburys own Weetabix, crackers, Sainsburys cider (made by Thatchers) cooking sauces, deserts. I could go on all day.

tesco and asda priced goods are the price that named brands used to be, before the named brand manufacturers started making them for asda and tesco
often both supermarket brands are the same thing, just wrapped up in own brand packaging

the illusion that supermarket own brands are cheaper is a common misconception.

supermarket’s increase the price of named brands, then decrease the shelf area given to them, whilst pushing their own brand through increased shelf space, at the price the named brand originally was (hence high inflation on food prices!) – it used to be the case that supermarket’s were always better on price over local independants, hasn’t been this way for a long time, local independants even garages are cheaper than asda/tesco on many named brands.

30,000 square foot superstore and their stocks of so many named brand products are reduced to one or two trays per week, whilst own brand products flood the shelves!

Have you seen an asda lately… this weekend, most of the frozen food/ready meals/pizzas even fish fingers, are the supermarket’s own brand!

Funnily enough, a few months back I bought Sainsburys own brand tomato ketchup rather than my usual Heinz. However I have gone back to Heinz as the Sainsburys one didn’t seem to keep its flavour as well. Some own brand products are good though e.g. Tesco Garibaldi biscuits and Asda Acacia squeezy honey.

IrvSwerve says:
19 May 2011

Nobody ever seems to read the very small print on the bottles or packets showing the ingredients and usually the all-important percentages of the main ingredient.. With Ketchup my Sainsbury Reduced Salt & Sugar bottle shows a record breaking ” 203 gms of tomatoes per 100gms of finished product”.
That’s why it tastes so good. I recall Heinz equivalent at around only130 gms.

Chris Nation says:
6 July 2011

Spot on Swerve! How much of the headline ingredient is in the product? That’s the key. Your Sains katsup is level on 203 with Tesco’s equiv. The Tesco one used to be far better at a whopping 223 but I guess they realised they were competing on price but with more toms than ‘necessary’ to do so. I think Waitrose ketchup beats 203 but I can’t recall for certain.

I check all products like jam, marmalade, canned toms & soups for main ingredient/100 grams. Irrespective of brand, the one I buy is the one with the most of what I want.

The naughty supermarket people play tricks with us on ingredients. Some ‘exotic’ fruit juices have so little of the ‘exotic’ fruit that having it feature on the label is almost fraud. Check and you’ll see that some are very largely apple or orange and the pomegranate or guava or whatever is down around the 3-5% mark, so little as to be masked by the taste of the principle ingredient.

Swerve makes a vital point that I suggest ‘Which?’ should pay more attention to in tests: the amount of ingredient per 100g, which of course gives a quick percentage of what one is looking for.

Seems 203/100g is the record, has anyone found a ketchup with MORE tomatoes than this?

With Rumcove’s mention of Wilkin & Sons ‘Tiptree’ brand ketchup ( http://www.tiptree.com ) being a clear benchmark for quality, perhaps they break the 203 point? In fact I’ll Google this right now and see…here we are:

310g bottle

tomatoes (75%), sugar, wine vinegar, salt, lemon juice, spices

Personally I do actually quickly look at labels to find the per 100g or percentage of ingredients (but then again, I’m geeky like that) and always buy the one with the most of what I want, so in the case of Jam/marmalades it’s fruit versus sugar, pasta sauce it’s the tomatoes percentage in the ingredients listing, shortbread it’s fat (it’s shorter).

I quickly look through them and select the jar with the highest, doesn’t matter what the brand is.

My daughter swears that Lidl tomato ketchup is tastier than Heinz. They all taste the same to me though. My homemade ketchup got the sink very clean.

Rumcove says:
21 May 2011

The best tomato ketchup (and brown sauce for that matter) is made by Wilkin and Sons, Tiptree. It is more expensive but you get what you pay for and most major supermarkets stock it (at least in the south east). Once you try it you won’t go back.

Kim Carter says:
21 May 2011

I haven’t eaten Heinz baked beans of ketchup for years. I’m lucky enough to be able to use Waitrose and their baked beans and ketchup are far nicer.

I would suspect that ‘Tasty’ may not prove to be ‘Healthy’.
Perhaps Which? could help our Healthy Options by producing comparative tables in such tests/surveys.

I started buying Sainsbury’s own brand Ketchup after I read an article from them saying that they’d worked hard to get a more tasty, more tomatoey recipe and in truth I genuinely prefer the Sainsbury’s sauce to Heinz, which I too find more sour and vinegary. I’ve not experienced the Sainsbury’s sauce losing its flavour over time, but then we do go through a lot of the stuff quite quickly! Sainsbury’s barbecue sauce and tomato burger relish are also rather yummy; not forgetting their apple sauce, which also has more apple in it than branded. Thanks to Which? we’ve changed to Branston beans which get 10/10 from us for sheer flavour and yumminess. Now, I’m feeling hungry….!

I’m not sure about the value of this discussion because we differ in our likes and dislikes.

Simply buy two or more brands of ketchup, baked beans, etc and compare the taste, price, nutiritional information, etc and make an informed personal decision.

Well, actually I think there is value, and for this reason only – brands have an impact on what we think something tastes like. Heinz may not taste much better than Sainsbury’s own-brand, but because it’s Heinz we think it literally tastes better. And so only blind taste tests can present the truth.

Alex Riley tested this out in his series on super-brands with an interesting idea. He got two tins of Heinz baked beans and changed the label on one to a supermarket own-brand label. Most people said the Heinz-labelled beans tasted better, even though the beans in each were exactly the same. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011llvt/Secrets_of_the_Superbrands_Food/

So it seems it’s difficult for someone to accurately do a taste test of foods themselves, unless it is literally blind to the brands.

Thanks for this, though its fairly well known that brand loyalty can affect people’s judgement.

Simple blind trials are easy to set up in the home. I’ve often done this on my own, the disadvantage being that I know which brands are being compared.

I look forward to watching the programme you mention on iPlayer.

Well, if you happen to hold another blind taste test at home, let us know of the results!

I don’t buy ketchup, so that’s a non-starter.

I will compare instant coffees and since this trial has been commissioned I will enlist the help of a friend to ensure that I don’t know which brands/types I am comparing, though it will include the two coffees that I buy most frequently.

What I have never done is to include coffees that I avoid such as supermarket own brand and decaffeinated coffee (which I have avoided buying because some early versions sometimes contained solvent residues). I’ll include examples of both in my trial.

How did your coffee taste test go Wavechange?

fishtaster says:
4 April 2013

Heinz beans used to taste good – but not any more. Many respected food brands have been bought out by businesses who appear to parasitize the good reputation once enjoyed by these brands, now peddling the cheapest, nastiest matter at top prices, (eg notice how the price of Heinz has soared over the past few years while the actual product is barely edible). By the time consumers wake up to this and stop buying the muck, big profits will have been raked in over and over again.

In buying branded products you are naturally paying extra to cover the cost of advertising and promotions. In return you are getting the credentials of the supplier – consistency, quality control and so on – and confidence in the product. But is it worth it?

I was brought up on HP sauce and Heinz Baked Beans. We shop at M&S (who stock HP) and eventually I noticed their own brand brown sauce was 50% of the price, so braved it. I could not tell any significant difference. With beans, we bought M&S own brand and found them nicer (less sweet) than Heinz – and cheaper. As for Ketchup, I endorse Which?’s rating as a top taste.

As I trust M&S – quality and credentials – we buy a lot of their own brands, at a considerable saving. However I do think you need to have confidence in the quality and ethos of the supplier – there are other stores whose own brands I would not trust.

vance says:
16 December 2014

I used to like asda smart price beans but they have taken something out of them and now they taste bland we don’t eat them anymore

Mr Bean says:
23 March 2015

I want to say I have tried various brands of backed beans and I don’t think Branstons are the best at all the sauce is watery and tastes bland, I much prefer Heinz allough their in my opinion more of a dinner style taste than a breakfast if you want Beans on toast sure use Branston but if you want egg’s, bean’s and chips you can’t beat Heinz simple as that.

Tanya says:
15 July 2015

Food in general is a con & overpriced. The only concern with the lidl test is the quality of the ingredients. The majority of the general public have no taste, and this is proven as many eat at McDonald’s. The other concern is what is added to lidl products? Do they contain E numbers that are detrimental to health or GMO ingredients? If it is 70% cheaper why is the law not changed to stop companies like Heinz ripping people off?

fishtaster says:
16 July 2015

I certainly agree that most of the public have no taste, and food companies (especially the ones with brand-leading names) have recently begun to exploit this mercilessly by degrading once excellent, or at any rate reliable products like Marmite (most people don’t notice the change, especially since they are completely taken in by the cynical “love it or hate it” campaign), Cadbury’s, and Heinz.