The Current

French's, Loblaws ketchup war reveals complex battle for shelf space

This week Canada got a glimpse into the marketing behind the products with prime spots on supermarket shelves after the pulling and restocking of French's ketchup in Loblaws stores.
Behind what you see on the grocery shelf is a competitive practice of paying and negotiating for the prime spot. (CBC)

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Not long after Heinz shut down its ketchup plant in Leamington, Ont., in 2014, French's came along and announced they would be using local Leamington tomatoes in their production.

The story struck a chord with Canadians so when Loblaws announced this week that French's ketchup would not be stocked in its stores, social media took up the cause. A few hours after Loblaws made the initial announcement, they returned with a new statement: French's ketchup would be back on its shelves. 

I think this is a first in Canadian history — to see social media, or consumers, reverse the decision of Canada's largest private employer.- Sylvain Charlebois 

While this ketchup saga played out, Canadians were given a glimpse into the rigorous marketing and negotiating that's behind the products that end up in the "strike zone" — the best spot for visibility on a shelf.

There are theories about why Loblaws decided to make the move to pull French's ketchup from its stores, but experts find one of the most interesting parts of this story to be how French's has shook up consumers' habitual shopping ways.

Guests in this segment:

  • Elliott Penner, French's company president.
  • Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at the University of Guelph Food Institute. 
  • Tandy Thomas, assistant professor of marketing at the Smith School of Business at Queen's University. 

What do you think of this flap over ketchup? How much does it matter to you how Canadian your ketchup is?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Kinsey Clark and Karin Marley.