You’d think VW employees would have more to worry about than the ketchup used in a currywurst sausage dish. Dieselgate, maybe? Or the fact that their bosses were using monkeys or maybe even people to test emissions?
But no, the controversy this month at VW plants throughout Europe is the introduction of a new ketchup that is slathered across the company’s own home-made sausages to create the well-known German delicacy of Currywurst or bockwurst sausage slathered in ketchup with some curry powder in it.
Usually served with a generous helping of fries.
The controversy is so large that German media have already given it its own name: Ketchupgate.
The kerfuffle started back in 2017 when VW’s ketchup contract with US food giant Mondelez ended. “We had bids from 12 ketchup suppliers,” Martin Cordes, head of the company’s hospitality wing, told broadcaster NDR. The suitors were to create a curry ketchup as close to the previous version as possible – it’s used not only in the company’s cafeterias but also sold in local supermarkets.
We like this one!
After hundreds of tests, the company picked a version from Munich sauce maker Develey. And, like the latest diesel controversy, Ketchupgate was born. The new tomato sauce is, in fact, different: It has less fat and sugar, and 13 percent more tomato paste. The changes were necessary to get close to the old taste because Develey uses different tomatoes and different techniques to make the ketchup. Even the ratios of the 21 different spices used to create the curry were altered, according to NDR.
But nobody in the hundreds of tests, some in cafeterias, seemed to mind. Unfortunately, employees did. Criticism reportedly rained down on the corporate intranet as soon as the new sauce was introduced. The real culprit, Mr. Cordes suspects, was the way the company handled the rollout: “If the label hadn’t changed, probably no one would have noticed,” he said, though he admits he can taste a difference: “You feel it more on the tip of your tongue rather than in your throat, like before.”
What now? “We are going to evaluate it and make changes,” he told the broadcaster.
For the VW dish, the timing couldn’t have been worse. VW’s sausage is celebrating its 45th birthday this year. Everyone knows the world’s biggest carmaker produced 10.9 million vehicles last year, but few know it also cranked out 6.8 million sausages at its own butcher shop in the northeast corner of the Wolfsburg plant – the previous year it was 7.2 million. It only makes one kind: Bockwurst.
A very long sausage
Each day it produces about 18,000, which are then served in plants throughout Germany and even in Slovakia. They come wrapped five-to-a-package with the tongue-in-cheek label: Original parts. The secret recipe hasn’t changed since 1973, VW says, and the meat assembly line even produced a 250-meter-long sausage in 2003 to celebrate the introduction of the fifth generation of its Golf sedan.
Like the ketchup, the sausages are also on shelves at local supermarkets.
Despite the circumstances, Happy Birthday, VW bockwurst, from all of us at Handelsblatt Global!
Andrew Bulkeley is an editor for Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: email@example.com