Israel Ketchup War Forces Heinz to Relabel Sauce as 'Tomato Seasoning'

Heinz will no longer be able to call its red sauce "ketchup" in Hebrew.

Heinz Ketchup Israel
A Heinz worker wipes the sweat from his face while selling commemorative ketchup bottles with Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger's picture on the bottles, at the exhibition of Berkshire Hathaway companies at the annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska May 3, 2014.Reuters/Rick Wilking

Israel's Health Ministry has ruled that Heinz ketchup does not contain a sufficient amount of "tomato solids" for it to be classified as ketchup, downgrading it instead to "tomato seasoning," following a lobbying campaign by the largest Israeli producer of the condiment, Osem.

The undated ruling, means that Heinz must not label its product as "ketchup" in Hebrew. The ruling will not affect English labelling of Heinz's ketchup in Israel.

Israeli food manufacturer Osem, which supplies the largest portion of Israel's ketchup with a 66% market share, argued that Heinz ketchup did not have the required tomato content to be defined as ketchup under Israeli food regulations.

In January, Osem sent a letter to retailers which revealed it had tested Heinz ketchup in a "leading European external laboratory," discovering that the condiment only held 21% of tomato concentrate, according to the Times of Israel. The findings were contrary to Heinz's advertising, which said the content held 61% tomato concentrate. Israeli food standards require ketchup to hold 41% of tomato concentrate.

Osem also claimed that Heinz bottles, advertised as containing 39% tomato concentrate, only contained just 17%.

The company which distributes Heinz ketchup within Israel, Diplomat, saw red over Osem's campaign against Heinz and issued a strongly worded statement in January in reply to the letter, taking a swipe at Osem's control of the market.

"Obviously, Osem, which has a monopoly, would be happy if it were only possible to sell their product in Israel," a spokesperson for Diplomat told Israel's Ynet News website in January. "But Osem's claims have no substance."

The distributor is now filing its own petition to change the definition of ketchup within Israel and the requirements of a ketchup product from 10% tomato solids to 6%. The potential alteration has the support of the Health Ministry's food division, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported.

In an email to Newsweek, Heinz defended the standard of its ketchup despite it being reclassified in Israel.

"Ketchup fans in Israel continue to enjoy Heinz Tomato Ketchup, the world's favourite ketchup first created by Heinz in 1876," the statement said.

"The word ketchup is indicated in English on the front of the bottle while recognizing that the Israeli standard for ketchup has yet to be brought in line with U.S. and European accepted international standards, the back label of our ketchup sold in Israel reflects current local requirements for ingredient labelling and the Hebrew name for the product."

A spokesperson for the Israeli Health Ministry declined to comment. A representative from Osem was not immediately available for comment.

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