Loblaws reverses decision, will continue to sell French's ketchup

Loblaws hopes enthusiasm for French's ketchup in news media and on social media translates into sales of the product.

'We've heard our Loblaws customers,' grocery chain says in statement

Loblaws blinks: French's ketchup to go back on the shelf

7 years ago
Duration 4:05
'We've heard our Loblaws customers,' grocery chain says in statement

Loblaws' squeeze on condiment giant French's is over — after just a few days.

Loblaws on Tuesday reversed its decision to stop stocking French's ketchup and will continue to sell it at all of its stores, which include Zehrs, No Frills, Superstore and others.

The grocery chain decided to drop French's ketchup last week, saying the condiment, made with tomatoes grown in Leamington, Ont., was not popular among consumers. But public outcry appears to have forced Loblaws to backtrack.

"We've heard our Loblaws customers," said Kevin Groh, vice-president of corporate affairs and communication.

"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."

Some Canadians took to Twitter last week, vowing they would not buy Heinz ketchup ever again after Loblaws announced it would stop selling competitor French's, which is made with tomatoes grown in Canada. But Loblaws is putting French's back on the shelf. (CBC)

French's president Elliott Penner was overwhelmed by the consumer support his company received in Canada.

"We've done this for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen a public outcry like this before," he told CBC News. "It really shows you how much power consumers have when they want to be heard, and they've been heard. We'll always be indebted to them for that."

Market share

Citing low demand, Loblaws told CBC News on Monday it had decided to drop French's ketchup from its shelves.

Getting back on the shelves of the thousands of stores under the Loblaws banner was important for French's as it continues to carve out its share of the ketchup market.

"It's a really important retailer for sure," Penner said. "We want to be on the shelves everywhere, not in limited assortment, that's for sure."

French's, most famous for its mustard, recently began its expansion into the ketchup industry. Earlier this year, it promised to only use tomatoes grown in Leamington, Ont.— the self-proclaimed Tomato Capital of Canada — and other parts of southwestern Ontario.

Penner was already "winded" by the public support the company's ketchup received after announcing its decision to use Leamington tomatoes. The prospect of losing shelf space at Loblaws and its stores was a blow.

"Certainly, you don't ever want to lose any business and you certainly don't want to lose something when it's so positive," Penner said. "But it was this outpouring of support that really carried us."

Shop local

French's gets its tomato paste from food processor Highbury Canco in Leamington and ships it to Toronto and the U.S. where it is used in ketchup. 

A facility in Toronto manufactures the food services ketchup. What ends up for sale on grocery store shelves is made at a plant in Ohio.

Highbury Canco operates at the former Heinz plant in Leamington.

In June 2014, Heinz ended production in Leamington, where it had been making ketchup since 1909. Nearly 1,000 workers, including seasonal employees and tomato farmers, were affected by the plant's closure.

Highbury Canco quickly moved in about a year later and began producing for Heinz and other food companies, including French's. The company now employs more than 400 people.

Leamington Mayor John Paterson called the situation "emotional."

"When we found out French's was moving to 100 per cent Leamington-grown and Leamington-processed tomatoes, it was a thrill to us," he said.

Paterson was just as delighted with Tuesday's news that Loblaws will continue selling French's ketchup.

"I'm very happy. It's good news for Highbury Canco, good news for French's and good news for farmers," he said.

Social media has been abuzz about French's ketchup for months. Some called for a boycott of Heinz. Others called for a boycott of Loblaws this week.

"To have all the social media take off the way it did, by totally innocent people, and the response it generated, has been great," Paterson said. "It's very easy to get caught up in it, it's an emotional topic.

"You don't want to say, 'boycott Heinz' when they're still producing quality products here in Leamington with quality Leamington tomatoes.

"I hope people remember the history Heinz created in this community and the good they did for all of us over those 100 years."


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