The 57 varieties of Heinz are…a lie. There are not 57 varieties made by H.J. Heinz & Co. and Heinz 57 sauce was not the 57’th product the company made, nor was it composed of a mixture of the 56 previous canned or bottled Heinz sauce products. In fact, even when the “57 Varieties” brand was first conceived, in 1896, the company had many more than 57 varieties. The company was started by Henry John Heinz, of Pittsburgh, in 1876, after initial success with his first company, called Heinz & Noble, which went bankrupt during the financial crash of 1875, after expanding too aggressively. He set up the new company with is brother and cousin and called it F. and J. Heinz, later changed to H.J. Heinz. During the 1880s, the company brought out once product after after another, concentrating on canned (“tinned” in those days) and bottled products.
Although we think of Heinz mostly as a Ketchup and sauce company, in those days the they made canned vegetables, canned spaghetti, baked beans, olive oil, and even peanut butter. They had a full line of soups, including cream soups. They had a line of fruit preserves, including figs and a mince meat mix. And pickles were always a big part of the companies line. All these hundreds of products started with an unlikely seeming beginning, bottled horseradish called “Heinz’s Evaporated Horse Radish” which Heinz manufactured with his partner L. Clarence Noble.
By 1900 Heinz was one of the largest food producing companies in the world and had over 200 product and nine factories. Heinz still carries some of these types of products, either under its own brand or others. The availability of products depends on your country. For instance, while Heinz soups are still available in the U.K. many in the U.S. never realized they existed (Heinz does sell soup in the U.S. under the Heinz Chef Francisco brand).
Today, the company has over 5000 products, with fifty affiliates operating in around 200 countries. Heinz owns the brands StarKist, Ore-Ida, Weight Watchers, T.G.I. Fridays packaged products, Quality Chef, Jack Daniels Sauces, Wattie’s, Plasmon, Farley’s, The Budget Gourmet, Rosetto, Bagel Bites, John West, Petit Navire, Earth’s Best, Orlando, Olivine, Pudlizki, 9-Lives Cat Food, Ken-LRation, Kibbles ‘n Bits, Pup-Peroni, and Nature’s Recipe (pet food), to name just a few.
Heinz himself came up with the 57 Varieties branding idea. He had a good reason for doing it and it was precisely because the company had so many products. In the late 1800’s branding wasn’t exactly a primitive science. Food companies in those days were already quite clever in how they branded their products. However, the usual practice was to create brands around individual products, although a few companies focused on creating trust around the company name. Heinz was already an innovative advertiser. He stated product demonstrations and free sample giveaways, and at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 the company gave away free “pickle pins” to visitors, which was an astounding success. In 1900, at a time when even one light bulb was something to write home about, the company put up the first electric advertising billboard in New York which was lit up with 1,200 light bulbs! The billboard itself became a tourist attraction until it was demolished to make room for the Flatiron building.
Heinz knew that it would cost too much to create a brand around all of the company’s products, and told the following story about how he conceived of the 57 varieties marketing slogan, as passed on by E.D. McCafferty, a close associate:
“Its origin was in 1896. Mr Heinz, while in an elevated railroad train in New York, saw among the car-advertising cards one about shoes with the expression ’21 Styles.’ It set him to thinking, and as he told it: ‘I said to myself, “we do not have styles of products, but we do have varieties of products.” Counting up how many we had, I counted well beyond 57, but 57″ kept coming back into my mind. Five, seven — there are so many illustrations of the psychological influence of that figure and of its alluring significance to people of all ages and races that 58 Varieties or 59 Varieties did not appeal to me as being equally strong. I got off the train immediately, went down to the lithographers, where I designed a street-car card and had it distributed throughout the United States. I myself did not realize how highly successful a slogan it was going to be.”
What Heinz managed to do was create a single corporate brand, or identity, that could be applied across all it’s products. When consumers saw the slogan “57 Varieties” they associated it with the quality they expected from the brand.1,2 The number 57 has become so associated with Heinz that people took to using the term “Heinz 57” or “57 varieties to refer to something composed of a mishmash of many parts.
As to the “significance” of the number 57, or the numbers 5 and 7 separately, there is not any one number that an irrational and imaginary significance cannot be attached to. 1Witzel, Morgen. The Encyclopedia of History of American Management. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2005. 2 Witzel, Morgen. Management History: Text and Cases. London: Routledge, 2009. 3 Various Heinz websites.