Facing a squeeze from Canadian customers, Loblaws says it will re-stock French’s ketchup after public backlash over the grocery giant’s decision to remove the Canadian-made product from its shelves across the country.
“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers,” Kevin Groh, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs and communication, told Global News in an email.
“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. We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible.”
The president of French’s Food Company says he is “humbled” by the reaction from Canadians following the news Loblaws would stop selling French’s ketchup in its stores.
“The outpouring of support by the Canadian consumer for our product has been unprecedented,” Elliott Penner told Global News Tuesday from the company headquarters in New Jersey. “We have never seen anything like it.”
“Our sales are to the point where now we can’t meet demand,” he said.
French’s recently began using tomatoes from Leamington, Ont. processed at the former H.J. Heinz Co. plant that was closed in 2014. When Heinz closed the plant, where it had been operating since 1909, 740 workers lost their jobs.
Food-processing company Highbury Canco took over the plant from Heinz and began producing products like tomato paste. The U.S.-based French’s announced in January it would make its ketchup from Leamington tomatoes. A facility in Toronto manufactures the company’s ketchup that ends up in restaurants, while an Ohio plants makes the condiment in grocery stores.
Penner said he had no idea why Loblaws originally wanted to pull French’s ketchup from grocery stores across the country.
“We’ve got retailers who are ordering full pallets of ketchup and putting them out on display,” he said. “Sales the last two weeks have been up 400%.”
“Part of our strategy has been to provide the best quality and to do that you get the best quality ingredients,” he added.
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s department of marketing and consumer studies, says the ketchup kerfuffle shows the power the consumer has.
“Loblaws makes or breaks companies,” he said. “There was something that basically compelled Loblaw to dump French’s, made the decision public and all of a sudden it went viral. It led to the reversal of the decision, which is spectacular.”
Support for the condiment company began when their ketchup caught the eye of an Orillia man who called on Canadians to buy the condiment in a Facebook post that went viral and has since been shared more than 130,000 times.
“French’s ( known for its mustard) stepped in and decided to make ketchup,” Brian Fernandez said in a Facebook posted Feb. 23. “They also decided to use those same Leamington tomatoes from Canadian farmers. The result: A ketchup …. free of preservatives. Free of artificial flavours. Also, free of high fructose corn syrup!! We bought a bottle. Absolutely love it!! Bye. Bye. Heinz.”
The uproar on social media continued to grow, and on Tuesday Liberal MPP Mike Colle warned in a letter to Galen Weston, the president of the supermarket chain, he is “more than prepared to lead a boycott of Loblaws until we get an explanation of your decision or a reversal of this refusal to stock French’s ketchup in your stores.”
“I think your company has made a huge miscalculation and underestimated the value that we put on supporting local foods and local jobs,” Colle said, adding the has been contacted by constituents and people across Ontario.
Earlier in this month, NDP MPP Taras Natyshak started an online petition calling for ketchup made with Leamington, Ont.-grown tomatoes to be served at the Ontario legislature.
“The promotion of French’s ketchup would greatly support local tomato producers, local workers and communities across Essex County,” he said in online petition.