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Wed, Nov. 13

Williams: I’m blowing the top off a major story right here, right now

It all started in 1896. It ends now in 2019. Here in downtown Chino Valley. By the time my findings revealed in this column hit the national press, my name will be right up there with Woodward and Bernstein associated with the Watergate scandal.

Henry J. Heinz introduced his marketing slogan “57 Pickle Varieties” in 1896. I doubt if anyone ever believed there were 57 different kinds of pickles in existence. Come on, we don’t need more than four or five strains of the things to fuel our active society, in my humble opinion. Since the Heinz Company was established in 1869, I guess it took Hank J. 27 years to come up with this brilliant advertising strategy. Maybe if he’d worked at it for 28 years, he might have made a success of himself and his company!

Well, the “57 Pickle Varieties” eventually evolved into the ambiguous “57 Varieties” on Heinz Ketchup packaging. But there weren’t that many varieties of ketchup. According to a highly questionable source of mine, there are only three kinds of Heinz ketchup: regular, hot and low-sodium. A discriminating sophisticate might ask, “There are 57 varieties of WHAT?” I just consulted the Kraft-Heinz website and clicked on the FAQ section. Apparently, there aren’t any discriminating sophisticates in the queue because not one person demanded to know about the “57 Varieties” ruse.

If the 57 Varieties claim isn’t vague enough, some Heinz labels show only the number “57”. Fifty-seven soap dispensers in the men’s room? Fifty-seven hamsters in Henry J’s rodent collection? Or members of the Grover Cleveland-for-president fan club?

The number “57” never stood for the number of products carrying the Heinz name. Four years before the “57” appeared, the company was already selling more than 60 branded food items.

The chic of 57 became much more than an advertising slogan. In the middle of the 20th century, the Heinz mailing address was Box 57, the phone number was 273-5757, and until the 1950s, anyone writing to Heinz claiming a 57th birthday received a free case of the company’s products. Wait, I’m not done yet. In 2001, Heinz reportedly paid $57 million to name the Pittsburgh Steelers’ stadium Heinz Field.

At this point in American culture, I’m surprised Area 51, the highly-classified U.S. Airforce facility in the Nevada Test and Training Range, hadn’t been dubbed “Area 57”!

OK, here’s the paragraph you been waiting for. The straight skinny is that in 1892 while riding on the New York Elevated, Henry Heinz was reading advertising car cards on the ceiling. He noted an ad for “21 styles of shoes” in one. Believing in the marketing power of numbers, he immediately concocted the “57 Varieties” tag line – for occult reasons, according to his biographer. Heinz said “5” was his lucky number and “7” was his wife’s lucky number. He also added that he chose the number 7 for the “psychological influence of that figure and of its enduring significance to people of all ages.” I have no idea what that means since, I swear, I’m not psychologically influenced by the number 7.

So, there you have it. Billions of dollars of food products have been sold because of a number. Hmm. I don’t believe any of this stuff, but I think I’ll rename my column in this newspaper. From now on, this column will be known as “57 Rants of One Man.” Or something. Couldn’t hurt.

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