Almost two years after a ketchup snub sparked a patriotic backlash in Ontario, sales for French's ketchup remain strong.
It's been over a year and a half since we reported on the Ketchup Wars of Ontario. In case you don't remember, and you don't feel like clicking on that link, here's a quick recap:
It all started when supermarket chain Loblaw's announced it was going to pull French's ketchup off its shelves, since it didn't sell as well as the Heinz brand. But in light of Heinz's recent withdrawal from the farming community of Leamington, Ontario, where it had been based for 104 years, and the fact that French's ketchup was still made using tomatoes from Leamington, many residents of Ontario reacted strongly to the decision.
What ensued was a social media-fuelled, patriotic, pro-French's frenzy in grocery stores across the province, complete with the premier taking pictures of herself bagging French's ketchup at the checkout and editorial cartoons of Donald Trump banning it from the United States. "Support Canadian workers and tomato farmers! Buy French's ketchup!" was the impassioned message.
But that was winter 2016. Where have things ended up? Did the loyal support wear off over time? According to an article in the December 2017 print edition of Maclean's, titled 'Condimental Drift,' it has not. Aaron Hutchins writes:
"Twenty months on, new numbers suggest the interloper has taken full advantage, cracking the Heinz stranglehold on Canada's ketchup market by wrapping itself in the Maple Leaf. Through 2016, French's market share stood at 3.2 percent amid the national goodwill. This year -- long after Canadians stopped talking about Leamington tomato farmers -- its share more than doubled to 6.7 percent... Its growth has come almost exclusively at the expense of Heinz... whose market share in Canada has dropped from 84 to 76 percent over the past two years."
Loblaw's continues to stock French's ketchup, as well as many restaurants, including fast-food chain A&W. Particularly in the Leamington region, both in stores and restaurants, there is little love lost for Heinz these days. Hutchins quotes Scott Holland, author of a Heinz-commissioned book about the company's role in Canada:
"Heinz is almost forgotten here. The loyalty definitely isn't there. Before, the groceries would go out of their way to serve Heinz products. Now you go to the ketchup aisle and see all these other ketchups taking up the same amount of space. It seems strange to see three or four brands sitting next to Heinz."
What Hutchins points out, however, is that French's is not as authentically Canadian as we'd like to think. It was owned by a British company at the time of the Ketchup Wars, then was sold earlier this year to American McCormick & Co. But French's has done a very good thing for Canada by moving its bottling operations from Ohio to Toronto for all its Canadian ketchup in 2017, making Ontarians all the more happy to buy it.
I've wondered about this on occasion, since I, too, reach for the French's automatically now whenever my kids need a ketchup refill. It's always nice to see patriotic and local buying habits stick, long after the initial hubbub has died down, and it does send a valuable message to food companies that consumers care, that we pay attention, and that we will persist in voting with our dollars.