In the interest of full disclosure you need to understand one thing.  I am not a big ketchup fan.  Not that I dislike it, but if I have a choice I am probably not going to put it on anything or dip my fries in it.  That being said, two different types of ketchup containers recently caught my eye.  The first is the large ketchup bottle that opens at the bottom.  The second is a small packet.  The ketchup comes out by squeezing or you open it and dip your fries in it.

A container that opens on the bottom is really ingenious.  The old glass bottles were a pain.  You turned it over and nothng happened.  You looked in the bottle and could see the ketchup down there.  It seemd to be coming down, but nothing was really happening.  Hitting the bottle or sticking a knife in might speed up the process, or make a big mess.  With the new bottle you just flip open the bottom of the container, give it a little squeeze and you’re done.

Frankly, I had never given a thought to single-use ketchup packets until I saw the new one.  They were just the little bags or small tubs that someone threw into my bag as I left the fast food place.  With the old packets, some people liked to create a little pile of ketchup on their plate while others dipped their food into a small tub of ketchup.  Now you can do both from the same container.

What is amazing to me is that both of these containers are painfully obvious in design.  When we see something so simple, we often say to ourselves, “I could have done that”, but the truth is we didn’t.  Somebody else thought of it and then perfected it.  

Now for my question, “Are these containers innovative?”  They are new.  They are interesting.  They are useful.  But that does not make then innovative.

Edison described part of innovation in this way, “Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.” A key part of innovation is utility.  So what is the definition of utility.  In different situations it may vary, but start by asking questions such as these about the project you are working on:

  1. Will the improvement increase sales?
  2. Does it enhance the experience for the customer?  How does that change the way the consumer interacts with the product?
  3. Does the improvement drive down the cost of the product either improving profitability or lowering the price for the end user?

So are these containers innovative?  What do you think?

 Popular Mechanics reviews the New Ketchup Packet