(Photo courtesy French's)

Ketchup Wars And Local Food

An amazing turn-around or a temporary reprieve?

I don’t know, but I suspect the news that grocery giant Loblaws is returning French’s ketchup to the shelves teaches us more about marketing than it does about the nature of populist Twitter campaigns and born-again buy local sentiment.

There is almost no doubt the decision to cut the product was made quite some time ago, before the French’s product became a thing in parts of Canada.

It usually takes big grocery chains a while to make these decisions.

This may be a good thing as a general rule for the “made in Canada, buy the food your neighbour grew” movement, and it certainly got visibility boost.

But I doubt any talk of boycotting any product would have lasted longer than a few days. Certainly a boycott of Heinz generally would have been counter-productive as the company still buys a lot of food product in Ontario. And the shift in buying patterns that would be required for a boycott of any grocery chain, as some people suggested was never in the cards. People just wouldn’t do it.

Seriously, there were people talking of ending their purchases of Kellogg’s products after that august company closed the London, Ontario facility. It doesn’t seem to have hurt Kellogg’s much more than a year later.

The return of French’s ketchup to the Loblaws grocery shelves gives the company the marketing boost of claiming it listened to customers, but it isn’t guaranteed how long it will stay on the shelves.

Remember the company email that said it is hoping the enthusiasm translates into sales. If it doesn’t, it will quietly fade away once again, you can bet on it.

We also don’t know if the production of Canadian ketchup by French’s will actually increase overall tomato production in Canada. Many of the other brands, such as the President’s Choice brand at Loblaws contain Canadian tomatoes. Depending on seasonality. Whatever that is.

There’s the rub. We don’t know what depending on seasonality means. Are the tomatoes Canadian 90% of the time, or 3%? No one seems to be saying.

In any event it’s nice the buy local movement got some publicity, and I hope the attention will shift some purchasing power when people see Canadian and Chinese, or even American products on the same shelves.

To be sure it is a lot easier with fresh produce and like many people I try to buy as much fresh produce and as little processed fare as possible. But there is always a place for food processors. They buy a lot from Canadian, and Ontario producers.

If there is a message in the great ketchup kerfuffle of 2016, it may be that checking the label for country of origin is always a good idea.

y be that checking the label for country of origin is always a good idea.