Shoppers see red over delisting of French's ketchup

Retailer reverses decision and promises to restock shelves with French's ketchup

Loblaw has reversed its decision to delist French's ketchup from its stores.

"We’ve heard our customers," Kevin Groh, Loblaw's vice-president of corporate affairs and communication, wrote in an email to Canadian Grocer. "We will restock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product."

The retailer revealed plans late last week to delist French's ketchup from its stores, citing poor sales. Public outcry, including some shoppers threatening to boycott Loblaw stores, seems to have convinced the retailer to change its mind.

Popularity has soared for French’s in recent week following a man’s Facebook post lauding the U.S.-based company for its commitment to buy tomatoes from Canadian farmers.

Brian Fernandez, a resident of Orillia, Ont., posted a photo on Facebook in late February of a French’s ketchup bottle he picked up at a nearby Metro. Fernandez said his family would no longer buy Heinz ketchup, since the company closed its Leamington, Ont. plant and cost the community about 750 jobs.

Since Heinz decided to pull the plug on its Canadian plant in Leamington, 740 jobs were lost. Heinz decided to make its...

Posted by Brian Fernandez on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In a phone interview, Fernandez told Canadian Grocer the photo received 43,000 shared within 12 hours of posting. The post has since been shared nearly 133,000 times.

While French's did not respond to requests to comment, Fernandez says company president Elliot Penner told him earlier that day that production has ramped up to keep up with the demand his Facebook posting has created at Canadian grocery stores.

Last week, Ontario MPP Taras Natyshak presented a petition calling for French's ketchup to be served in the dining room and cafeteria at Queen’s Park, replacing the current Heinz brand.

French’s had put a focus on local since the product first launched in Canada. Its ketchup is made with Canadian tomatoes grown in Leamington, and in December, French’s started stamping a “promise seal” on its mustards and ketchups. The red seal, which feature a Canadian flag, is meant to signal the company’s pledge to provide products with “great taste, real, local ingredients, and true commitment to our communities.”

Other retailers have been able to capitalize on the condiment's popularity. Toronto independent Longo’s announced Monday night that it would stock French’s ketchup in its stores. “You asked, we listened,” the retailer posted on Instagram.

"For context on our initial decision, our job as a retailer is to stock the products customers want most," Groh wrote. "Despite the recent media and social media attention, French’s regular ketchup did not sell well in our stores for more than a year.

He added that Loblaw consistently met with French's to review performance, and the company was notified of Loblaw's final decision more than a month ago.

"Loblaw has a Canadian-first sourcing policy and is committed to supporting Canadian farmers and Canadian businesses," he said. "We are the largest purchaser of locally grown produce in the country."

For Canadian food expert Sylvain Charlebois, Loblaw's decision to delist French's ketchup was a "strategic corporate decision that became a cause" for many people.

"Loblaw is very supportive of Canadian agriculture," said Charlebois, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Guelph, and the soon-to-be dean of the management faculty at Dalhousie University in Halifax. "But they simply misunderstood and miscalculated public support for locally processed and value-added goods.

"To me, that's the really interesting thing about all this, and is likely a first in Canadian history."

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