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Food & Drink

Ketchup suppliers just can’t catch up



SunOfErat, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to the great ketchup shortage of 2021. Yes, seriously. 

Summer is quickly approaching and for many people that brings to mind cookouts, ball games, and picnics and the hamburgers, hot dogs and fries typically enjoyed at those events. But if you’re one of the millions of people who enjoy smothering your summertime fare in globs of sweet, tangy tomato-ey goodness, you may soon be out of luck.

It seems as if ketchup has become another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, albeit not as widely recognized as toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Everyone is aware of the toll that quarantining and social distancing took on restaurants, but few consider the impact it has had on prepackaged condiments. With the majority of restaurant businesses over the last year being takeout, those tiny packages of ketchup and other sauces were being used in much greater quantities.

Kraft Heinz Co. is the industry leader holding nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market for the condiment. But even 150 years in the industry couldn’t prepare Heinz for the fallout of a global pandemic. At the height of the quarantine, Kraft Heinz couldn’t keep up with the increase in orders for its ketchup sachets, what insiders call ketchup packets. And with sanitizing and maintaining distance being an even bigger priority, bottles of ketchup all but disappeared.

To combat the shortage, the company opened two new manufacturing lines in early 2021 with plans to open even more after that, increasing production by about 12 million packets a year. They’re also running extra shifts at their existing plants.

Of course in true supply and demand fashion, the ketchup shortage has driven prices up. In fact, ketchup prices are up 13% since January 2020, and their market share has exploded at the expense of tabletop bottles, according to restaurant-business platform Plate IQ.

There is an upside, however. As word of the shortage is getting out, people have taken to online marketplaces like Facebook and EBay to hawk their personal stash. One listing offered 13 packets for over $400. So you know all those packets of ketchup that have been piling up with the soy sauce, fake Parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes in your kitchen drawer? You may just want to hold on to those.

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