French's plans to bottle its line of ketchup in Toronto, the next move in the mustard giant's battle with rival Heinz for the Canadian market, CBC News has learned.
The company said Select Food Products Ltd., a Canadian family business, will bottle all French's ketchup sold in Canadian retail stores.
The news is part of the "French's Promise in Canada" campaign, which it began after competitor Heinz withdrew from production in the Leamington, Ont., area. French's began by sourcing tomatoes in the region and now moves up to bottling as well.
French's also announced further expansion of its partnership with Highbury Canco of Leamington, Ont. Highbury currently works with French's to source and package all tomatoes and tomato paste used in French's ketchup.
French's will launch two new products in Leamington in early 2017, both to be made at Highbury Canco, which operates out of the former Heinz plant there.
'Tomatoes will always be part of our history'
Leamington Mayor John Paterson told CBC News he knew some sort of expansion was coming, but he was surprised to hear it would be two bottling lines.
"This has got to make a lot more people feel a lot comfortable with [Leamington]," he said. "We've been making a big turnaround in different areas of industry, tourism and the like, but seeing our tomato industry get back on its feet after such a short period of time is great news for everyone."
Paterson estimates Highbury Canco employs about 400 people — half the figure that used to work for Heinz. But he expects the expansion and related spin-off jobs growing and processing tomatoes for the plant to quickly begin closing that gap.
"We will never escape the 'Tomato Capital of Canada' title, and we'd never try," Paterson said. "Tomatoes will always be our history and knowing French's is expanding down here … I see their addition to Highbury Canco as really positive."
"We are delighted to implement the next phase of The French's Promise in Canada," French's Food Division president Elliott Penner said in a statement.
"Increasing manufacturing and production in Canada is an important part of our business model. Today we are pleased to announce our two important partnerships with Select Foods Products LTC and Highbury Canco. They are and will continue to be outstanding partners."
French's been capitalizing on patriotism and promising a bigger Canadian footprint for months.
Canadians slagged grocery giant Loblaws when it decided — briefly — to stop stocking French's ketchup.
And a Facebook post in which Brian Fernandez, of Orillia, Ont., praised French's Canadian content went viral.
"Since Heinz decided to pull the plug on its Canadian plant in Leamington, 740 jobs were lost. Heinz decided to make its ketchup solely in the USA. Then, French's (known for its mustard) stepped in and decided to make ketchup," his post read, in part. "We bought a bottle. Absolutely love it!! Bye. Bye. Heinz."
Select Foods will build a fully dedicated manufacturing operation "to meet the demands of the growing French's ketchup business," French's said in an email to CBC Windsor.
'We are thrilled'
The mustard maker has been ramping up efforts to grab more of the ketchup market, dominated by Heinz.
The new facility in Toronto is expected to be fully operational by early 2017. French's said the partnership will lead to more jobs and increased opportunities for Select Food Products.
"We are thrilled to partner with French's to manufacture the highest quality ketchup for the Canadian retail market," Select Food president Andrew Mitchell said in a statement.
"This is a win-win partnership in that French's business will enable us to add more high-quality jobs and to help us make a positive difference in our community."