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Why Israel just downgraded Heinz tomato ketchup

August 25, 2015, 7:14 PM UTC
H.J. Heinz Co. Products
H.J. Heinz Co. ketchup is arranged for a photograph in New York, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 22, 2011. H.J. Heinz Co., the world's biggest ketchup maker, is expected to announce earnings tomorrow. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Scott Eells — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israel’s Health Ministry recently ruled that Heinz tomato ketchup does not contain enough “tomato solids” to qualify as ketchup, and it will now have to be referred to as “tomato seasoning,” the Times of Israel reports.

The ruling will only affect the Hebrew label version.

Israel’s decision comes as a response to a lobbying campaign against Heinz by Israeli food manufacturer Osem, which controls about two-thirds of the ketchup market in Israel, according to YNet. Heinz claims the majority of the remaining third.

Osem sent a letter to retailers back in January saying it had arranged for the Heinz product to be tested, and the results showed that it did not meet the Israeli Health Ministry’s minimum requirement to be considered ketchup. The letter, which was signed by Osem CEO Nizan Goldberg, reads:

We wish to bring it to your attention that we recently discovered that the product marketed as Heinz 700g ketchup only contains about 21% tomato concentrate and not the 61% tomato concentrate as advertised on the product…. The incorrect indication of tomato concentrate in the products severely misleads the Israeli consumer public and is a violation of the provisions of the law to protect consumers.

Retailers responded angrily to Osem’s aggressive push against Heinz. Supermarket magnate Rami Levy told Israel’s Food Network: “Osem competes with Heinz via the consumer and the shelf, and the only one who can tell me whether Heinz ketchup is valid or not, is the Ministry of Health.” And that’s exactly what the Ministry did.

The Times of Israel notes that Diplomat, the company that distributes Heinz in Israel, is now petitioning for Heinz’s “ketchup” status to be restored by proposing that the Israeli Health Ministry lower its ketchup standards.