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You know those little packets of ketchup? The pandemic has made them scarce

Heinz, America’s biggest supplier of the ubiquitous red french fry dip, says it’s working to catch up.
Heinz, the popular ketchup brand, has made big changes to help supply meet demand.  [Associated Press]
Heinz, the popular ketchup brand, has made big changes to help supply meet demand. [Associated Press]
Published Apr. 15
Updated Apr. 15

Of all the signs of normality this past year has taken away, here’s one you might not have seen coming:

Ketchup — that super-popular tomato-red condiment used by more than 300 million American consumers last year, often on burgers and fries. (Ketchup on hot dogs remains a point of contention.)

Specifically scarce have been those small rectangular packets of ketchup to go, the kind that fill the bottoms of sacks of take-out food.

The chef at Goody Goody, a busy burgers, shakes and fries restaurant in Tampa’s Hyde Park Village, was warned by a supplier about the potential for scarcity in January. With the help of longtime vendors, they have weathered the shortage.

“I know how important ketchup is to some of our guests. It is to me, too,” said Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer for the Columbia Restaurant Group, which includes Goody Goody. “If you don’t like ketchup, I’m not sure we can be friends.”

Some people really like ketchup.
Some people really like ketchup. [ Courtesy of Goody Goody restaurant ]

After the coronavirus hit, many restaurants pivoted to take-out and delivery, causing a surge in demand for ketchup packets — or “sachets” as they’re more elegantly called in the industry.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised restaurants to avoid reusable condiments. So establishments that once kept ketchup bottles on tables started providing packets or individual servings instead. Demand for those packets went up.

Those little packets of ketchup have been in demand in the pandemic.
Those little packets of ketchup have been in demand in the pandemic. [ SUE CARLTON/Times ]

Heinz, America’s largest ketchup supplier, said it’s working to catch up.

Early on, the company added production shifts and scaled back on less popular products. This was “to keep up with the surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by the accelerated delivery and take-out trends,” Steve Cornell, president of Kraft Heinz’s Enhancers, Specialty and Away from Home Business Unit, said in an emailed statement.

“That said, demand was greater than supply,” the company said.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported the price for those packets has increased by 13 percent.

Heinz said multiple new production lines are expected to yield a 25 percent increase in production, totaling 12 billion ketchup packets a year.

The 150-year-old brand also said it quickly developed a no-touch ketchup dispenser “to further meet changing restaurant needs.”