HIGHTOWER: Diabolical Ketchup

Travel with me now into the Far, Far, Far-out Frontier of Free Enterprise.Today, Spaceship Hightower takes you into the sometimes unstable constellation of condiments. You know -- ketchup, mayo, mustard, chow-chow, salsa, and other savory edibles we put on our food to enliven it. I say that this constellation of goodies is unstable because you're never sure what's on top in terms of popularity. For some years now, Mexican salsas have outperformed everything else, but this year the old middle-American standby is king again. In the past year, according to condiment counters, ketchup sales were $516 million to salsas' $509 million.The King of Ketchup is H.J. Heinz, which controls half of the U.S. market. Heinz is a food conglomerate with some 4,000 different products on the market, but its new CEO has ketchup on the brain ... not to mention on everything he eats: "I put it on eggs, mashed potatoes, rice, green beans, peas" he says. But he's not the champion of ketchup kitsch -- remember that Tricky Dick Nixon liked ketchup on cottage cheese. Perhaps that explains the Watergate break in. And if Nixon isn't weird enough for you, recall that Elvis Presley poured ketchup on sweet potato pie. There's no accounting for taste.The head honcho of Heinz says he's not surrendering to salsa without a fight ... but I think he's fighting dirty. He notes that the people of Sweden serve pasta with ketchup poured on top. Yuuuuccck. But apparently the children there love it. So -- get ready moms and dads -- Heinz is launching a $50 million advertising campaign targeted to your five-year old children, urging them to pour the red stuff on pasta. Diabolical.This is Jim Hightower saying ... Have you noticed that the devil himself is sort of a ketchup red? You tell me what it means.

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