Canada’s Voice – A ketchup war is brewing, and Justin Trudeau is about to step into the middle of it.
Representing the United States is Heinz, which put 700 Canadian workers out of work in 2014 when it closed a plant in Canada’s tomato capital, a small southern Ontario town called Leamington. Anger and hand-wringing ensued.
Representing Canada is French’s, the mustard-maker, which began producing ketchup in Canada after the Heinz closure. In its bid for Canadian dollars, French’s even put a maple leaf on the bottle. Canadians rejoiced and bought French’s ketchup.
And on Sunday — which also happens to be Canada Day — Trudeau’s government is hitting back against the Trump administration’s tariffs on Canadian metals by slapping $12.6 billion ($16.6 billion Canadian) in tariffs on dozens of American-made products, including Heinz. To mark the occasion, the prime minister will spend part of the day not in the capital but in tomato country, meeting “Canadians and their families” and visiting a food processing plant.
The backlash to the Heinz closure began in earnest in 2016 on Facebook, when an Ontario construction worker called on Canadians to start buying French’s ketchup, which was then being made with tomato paste produced by an independent company in the old Heinz plant in Leamington. “Bye. Bye. Heinz” soon attracted tens of thousands of shares on Facebook and lots of media attention.
(French’s is in some ways no more Canadian than its rival. It’s now owned by McCormick & Co., the Maryland-based spice and food company.)
Buoyed by the consumer demand, French’s hired a contract manufacturer last year to set up a full production line in Toronto for its product. The labels, adorned with a maple leaf, read: “Bottled in Canada with 100 percent Canadian Tomatoes.”
With widespread anger over President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and his comments about Trudeau after the G-7 summit, there have been growing calls for Canadians to buy local. Maclean’s magazine recently published “A Patriot’s Guide to Shopping During a Canada-U. S. Trade War,” with French’s ketchup topping the list of favored Canadian-made products.
“Demand is very robust,” said Andrew Mitchell, president of Select Food Products, which started French’s ketchup production with one weekday shift and has kept expanding. “We can’t keep up with demand, which is a good problem to have. We’re basically going 24/7. The made-in-Canada story is really resonating.”
Mitchell said that French’s has roughly doubled its market share in Canada for ketchup to 8 or 9 percent nationally, propelled by the made-in-Canada message, though Heinz still is the market leader.
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