Getting sauced: Ketchup makers increasing production to meet pandemic demand

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The long national nightmare is nearly over — not the pandemic, but the ketchup packet shortage.

Leading ketchup makers say they have made major changes to keep up with the demand for the packets that surged when eateries switched to mostly takeout and delivery services amid coronavirus shutdowns and restrictions.

An increased flow of complimentary condiments can’t come soon enough for some restaurants across the country and around the D.C. area.

In Chicago, Audrey Cologne, manager of Lou Mitchell’s restaurant, said she has had trouble ordering the usual 14-ounce squeeze bottles of ketchup. She said she had to order larger bottles from her supplier due to a manufacturing issue.

“We have to think twice before giving customers another packet of ketchup,” said Monica Zakaria, manager of Van Dorn Diner in Alexandria, Virginia.

Kraft Heinz has made manufacturing investments to keep up with the “surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by the accelerated delivery and take-out trends,” company President Steve Cornell said.

The new production lines added for food service products will up production by 25% for a total of 12 billion ketchup packets each year, the company said.

“If you think about the next few weeks in the summer months, we will be able to be fully supplied for all of the demand needs for a particular Heinz ketchup,” Carlos Abrams-Rivera, Kraft Heinz’s U.S. zone president told Yahoo Finance Live.

Conagra Brands, owner of Hunt’s Ketchup, said its packet volume is up about 75% to 80% year-over-year, and sales have nearly doubled.

“It’s been one of our best-selling foodservice products during the pandemic. We have been able to secure extra capacity from our co-manufacturing partner to meet the demand,” Conagra Brands told The Washington Times. “The demand for ketchup packets has skyrocketed as delivery and take out are at an all-time high.”

Kraft Heinz told The Times that it noticed early during the pandemic a “shift in demand” to restaurants with drive-thru and delivery options and prioritized production of products with the largest demand in retail and food service.

“That said, demand was greater than supply,” the company said.

Gum Tong, owner of Pete’s Diner in Washington, D.C., said she has not been able to get ketchup every time when she stocks up on supplies each week. She said she is maybe able to get ketchup every other week, noting there is a “little shortage” of the condiment on the market.

In line with health guidance, sit-down restaurants shut down or limited their dine-in services during the COVID-19 pandemic and switched to delivery and takeout options instead, competing with fast food places for packaged condiments such as ketchup packets.

Although some diners expressed some difficulty with getting ketchup packets, many other diners have said they are not struggling to get their supplies of ketchup as of right now.

Peter Pitciurrio, manager of Miss Katie’s Diner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said he has had no trouble getting ketchup supply for the restaurant. But he said his supplier warned him to order enough ketchup ahead of time to last the restaurant through the summer.

Fast food chains including Five Guys and Chick-fil-A also said they are not experiencing a ketchup shortage.

“All of our locations nationwide are fully stocked and supplied with ketchup packets and other condiments,” said Brent Wright, director of supply chain for Five Guys. “Currently, Five Guys does not have any issues getting sauce packets at the store level.”

While Chick-fil-A might not have a ketchup shortage, it said it is experiencing a shortage of dipping sauces.

“Due to industry-wide supply chain disruptions, some Chick-fil-A restaurants are experiencing a shortage of select items, like sauces. We are actively working to make adjustments to solve this issue quickly and apologize to our guests for any inconvenience,” the fast food chain said in a statement.

An email to customers from one Chick-fil-A restaurant told them the restaurant would be limiting one sauce per entree, two sauces per meal and three sauces per 30-count nuggets, The MoCo Show reported last week.

However, customers at many Chick-fil-A restaurants are receiving only one dipping sauce cup per entree ordered.

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