Ketchup wars

by DaniGirl on March 15, 2016 · 4 comments

in Canadianisms, Consumer culture, Eating and thinking and thinking about eating

I have been following with interest the story of French’s versus Heinz ketchup. If you’ve missed it, the story so far goes something like this.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 8.26.25 AM

Last year, worlds collided in the condiment aisle when Heinz introduced mustard not too long after French’s introduced ketchup. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than just new product launches, though. If you grew up, as I did, in southern Ontario, you knew that Heinz ketchup was made in Leamington, a small town just outside of Windsor. In 2014, Heinz stopped making ketchup at the Leamington plant, which meant that not only were those factory workers out of work but all the local farms who supplied tomatoes to the plant were devastated as well. This article says Heinz consumed more than HALF of Ontario’s processing tomato crop, and Leamington’s economy was so inextricably bound to Heinz that it was called “Tomato Town.” The Toronto Star reported in May 2014:

This much is certain: Leamington ketchup is done. No longer will 200 bottles of the red stuff roll off the Leamington line every minute. No longer will the plant, which really has played a muscular role in the growth of the global conglomerate, boast of 80 million bottles of ketchup made annually. No longer will Heinz ketchup sport the “Proudly Prepared in Canada” label, the one with the red maple leaf, a claim made since the first bottle of Leamington ketchup was stoppered in 1910.

As a result, that monster-sized rendering of a ketchup bottle on the Oak Street side of the factory, the one with the crowing banner “Home of Canada’s Finest Ketchup,” will have to go. As for the argument over whether the Canadian version is sweeter than the Heinz ketchup made in the U.S. of A. — well, that conversation is over.

Into that giant footprint stepped French’s in January of 2016. French’s started making tomato paste for ketchup at the Highbury Canco plant formerly occupied by Heinz, using local Canadian tomatoes. Then suddenly everyone was talking about French’s ketchup in a social media groundswell after one fellow’s impassioned Facebook post went viral last month. As more and more people shared Brian Fernandez’ post about how he loves French’s because its ketchup is free of preservatives, artificial flavours and high fructose corn syrup, French’s ketchup flew off the store shelves. Each time I visited the grocery store this month, I chuckled to myself seeing the nearly sold-out shelves of French’s ketchup.

It was an easy decision for me as a consumer. Canadian made? Yes please. Inputs produced by Canadian farmers? Yes please. Free from high fructose corn syrup and preservatives? Yes please. I have been a lifelong fan of Heinz ketchup, but it was clear to me which brand I’d be buying from now on.

And so my jaw literally dropped open when I read this morning that Loblaws has said it will no longer carry French’s ketchup.

Loblaws told CBC News it has sold French’s ketchup since 2014, but the particular brand of the condiment was not extremely popular.

“Demand for the product has been consistently low,” a company official wrote in an email. “As a result, we have decided to no longer offer it as part of our regular inventory.”

The article goes on to say that “French’s ketchup stock is still available in some Loblaws stores, but not all.” I can tell you this for sure: I shop at my local Your Independent Grocer with fierce loyalty, and I’ve been a Loblaws customer for decades, but I will go to whatever store I need to in order to stock up on French’s ketchup, and I will never buy another Heinz product.

I hope Loblaws realizes how utterly tone-deaf and ham-fisted their actions appear and retracts this decision. I’m not saying they should exclusively carry one brand or another, but to exclude a brand riding a wave of popular support because it is made locally, supports Canadian farmers AND is more healthy? What were they thinking? I think Beloved put it best: here in Canada, it should not be the President’s Choice, but the Prime Minister’s choice, and the people’s choice. We’ll be a French’s ketchup family from now on.

What do you think? Spring thaw means BBQ season here in Canada: will you be re-thinking what’s on YOUR burgers and dogs from now on?

Edited to add: Dang, I knew the blog was powerful, but I didn’t realize quite how powerful! *wink* The Toronto Star is reporting that Loblaws has relented!

“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers. We will re-stock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product,” said Kevin Groh, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs and communication.

“We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible,” Groh said Tuesday.

Imma call that a victory. Thanks for listening Loblaws!

Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion only, and does not in any way reflect the opinions of my employer.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kev March 15, 2016 at 8:58 am

This is a hard one for me. I’ll always get behind Canadian products, but a company like Loblaw is in the business of making money, and until that post went viral, French’s ketchup did just sit there; no one bought it. Their timing is kind of ridiculous, but that’s their choice.

I’ve seen a lot of calls to boycott Loblaw’s stores, but how does that help French’s? Just don’t buy the competing ketchup if you shop there, and if you don’t shop there, that’s also your choice. Products should compete on their merits. If you like French’s, and love that it’s made in Canada, awesome! (we won’t go into the health benefits of a product that is essentially sugar and salt with tomato flavouring, nutritionally they’re pretty much identical 😉 )

Your closing paragraph nails it for me, where you as the buyer has the choice. That’s really what it’s all about. Generate demand with your wallet 😀

2 Kev March 15, 2016 at 9:02 am

(Also, the “Your Independent Grocer” branding needs a “brought to you by Loblaw” byline. There’s a reason you can shop PC and no name there. 😀 )

3 DaniGirl March 15, 2016 at 9:14 am

Yes on your first comment. And on your second comment, sure I know that YIG is under the Loblaws umbrella, but at the local YIG I see Osgoode mushrooms and Manotick tomatoes and North Gower coffee among many other products I never see at the Loblaws branded stores. The YIGs manage to be less corporate and more local (ours is a terrific community citizen), while still carrying the flagship brands. That’s why I’m not sure i buy into the “boycott Loblaw” movement, but I am still incredulous at how poorly this has been handled.

4 Kev March 15, 2016 at 9:24 am

Yeah, it’s probably a decision that was taken before the posts went viral, and it also may be a case of payola for shelf space (which is a thing), but whatever the reason, their PR team is going to be learning some lessons right now. Our YIG is a fantastic community citizen as well, providing employment for a large number of high schoolers and contributing in many ways. It’s interesting that your YIGs carry local produce; ours runs Foodland Ontario promotions, but for the really local produce we do have to hit our local (non-branded) grocery, who carries a variety of meat, dairy, and produce from local farms. Also funny bit – French’s is at WalMart. Weird, eh?

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