Can ranch dressing become 'the new ketchup'?
Hidden Valley wants its thick, creamy dipping sauce waiting for you wherever you sit down to eat. Should Heinz be worried?
Condiments are big business — worth $5.6 billion a year in the U.S., according to Bloomberg Businessweek — and Hidden Valley wants its flagship ranch dressing, now available in a thicker formula called "Hidden Valley for Everything," to have a more prominent spot at the table. How prominent? With the "Everything" campaign, the company wants ranch to be "as ubiquitous as ketchup on restaurant tables and in consumers' kitchens," Jon Balousek, head of the food, charcoal, and cat-litter division of Hidden Valley owner Clorox tells The Wall Street Journal. The labels on the new "retro-style" bottle even call the product "the new 'ketchup'." Is this initiative anything more than hype? Here's what you should know:
First off: Where did ranch dressing come from?Supposedly, the mixture of buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, minced onion, and garlic powder was first concocted at Hidden Valley Ranch, an actual dude ranch in 1950s California. Clorox bought the brand and recipe in 1972. And now, with Hidden Valley for Everything, the company can talk up another "noble creation myth," says Hamilton Nolan at Gawker: Clorox executive Grant LaMontagne apparently formed the idea after watching "his college-age daughter 'bathe her entire salmon in ranch dressing.'"
What is Hidden Valley's game plan?Hidden Valley for Everything — a thicker, creamier ranch "topping and dip" — and its new bottle are supposed to offer consumers the convenience of ketchup and the taste of ranch. "You can dollop it on a burger and it'll stick to a French fry better than the dressing would," Clorox spokesman David Kargas tells Britain's Daily Mail.
Don't Americans already put ranch on everything?Ranch is the nation's most popular salad dressing, used twice as often as other flavors, according to market research firm NPD Group. And plenty of Americans use ranch on chicken, french fries, pizza, sandwiches, and chips. In fact, Hidden Valley says 15 percent of ranch is used on items other than salad and vegetables. That's a number they want to increase.
Is ketchup really the condiment to beat?Ketchup is versatile and ubiquitous, but it isn't the best-selling condiment in the U.S. That would be mayonnaise, with 400 million containers sold each year, according to market-research firm SymphonyIRI Group. Next is salsa (271 million jars), and then ketchup (256 million bottles). Heinz Ketchup makes a tempting target for Hidden Valley, with sales of $278 million a year, but Unilever's Hellmann's sells $401 million worth of mayo and even sales of Frito-Lay's Tostito's salsa beats the revenue from Heinz ketchup by $6 million a year.
Is aiming for ranch domination a good idea?Maybe for Hidden Valley, but not for Americans, says Gawker's Nolan. "There's no easier way to add thousands of calories of pure fat to your diet every day, with no added vitamins, while successfully causing the rest of the world to retch in disgust at our collective resignation to a life of riding motorized scooters through the grocery store." There is an opportunity here, says JT at So Good, but, for ranch to become ubiquitous in restaurants, Clorox will have to come up with a non-refrigerated version, with a list of ingredients that will force me to dig out my high school chemistry textbook.