One Major Country Just Said Heinz Can't Call Itself "Ketchup"

August 18th 2015

Eitan Arom

You know that red stuff that comes in a bottle with the words “Heinz ketchup” on it? Turns out, it’s not ketchup after all.

That’s according to Israel’s Health Ministry, which ruled that the Heinz product doesn’t contain enough tomato to be labeled ketchup, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

The move is a response to a petition by local brand Osem to downgrade its multinational competitor from ketchup to “tomato seasoning.”

That ketchup is not exactly pure tomato should be a surprise to no one. As Kitchendaily pointed out, ketchup is a highly processed food that is fermented and involves large amounts of vinegar. It's much different than the traditional Italian "tomato sauce" used on pasta.

But for Israel's Health Ministry, Heinz went too far.

Osem wrote retailers in January advising them that it had tested Heinz’s product and found that it contained only 21 percent tomato concentrate, falling short of the 41 percent required to sell a product as ketchup in Israel, Ynet reported.

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The letter was accompanied by an $18.5 million class-action suit filed on behalf of consumers, according to the Jewish Press.

The Diplomat Group, which distributes Heinz in Israel, fired back with a letter of its own.

“Instead of battling over the hearts and pockets of consumers, Osem is trying to harm its competitors with legal tricks and deception,” it wrote, according to the Jerusalem Post.

At first, it may seem like a David and Goliath story—a local brand battling a greedy and oversized intruder scores an unlikely victory. However, Ynet reports that Osem controls two-thirds of ketchup sales in Israel.

Israel’s ketchup wars are not over. The Diplomat Group is pushing to lower the percentage of tomato solids required to sell a product as ketchup, Haaretz reports.

Food is political in Israel, where last year the high price of a Milky, a popular chocolate snack, became a symbol for the inflated cost of living. In 2011, a hike in the cost of cottage cheese helped spark an Arab Spring-style revolt that one prominent columnist dubbed "the Great Cottage Cheese Uprising."