French’s Ketchup

Smoky River Regional Economic Development

Dan Dibbelt

It all started with a simple Facebook post:
“Brian Fernandez about a month ago
“Since Heinz decided to pull the plug on its Canadian plant in Leamington, 740 jobs were lost. Heinz decided to make its ketchup solely in the USA. Then, French’s (known for its mustard) stepped in and decided to make ketchup. They also decided to use those same Leamington tomatoes from Canadian farmers. The result: A ketchup …. free of preservatives. Free of artificial flavours. Also, free of high fructose corn syrup!! We bought a bottle. Absolutely love it!! Bye. Bye. Heinz.”

In 2014, Heinz, the popular ketchup company, pulled up stakes in Leamington, Ontario, population 28,400, and in the process threw nearly 1,000 people out of work. Heinz moved its production to the States and also began purchasing their tomatoes in the US.

The Heinz plant in Leamington was sold to Highbury Canco, a privately held firm led by Toronto investors. Highbury Canco picked up a significant amount of work and helped keep many locals employed.

French’s (the famous mustard company) started making ketchup using tomatoes grown in the Leamington region, and turned them into tomato paste at Highbury Canco. The paste is shipped to Ohio and bottled and sold as ketchup in Canada while the ketchup packets are produced in Toronto.

Well, the kerfuffle began when Loblaw’s announced, that due to low consumer demand they would stop carrying French’s ketchup. Leamington resident, Fernandez decided to post his now famous Facebook post and the resulting support and outcry, led to Loblaw’s changing their mind just a couple days later.

And most recently French’s ketchup won over another fan — the company that runs A&W restaurants in Canada which has now decided to serve French’s Tomato Ketchup and Classic Yellow Mustard in all of its restaurants across Canada.

The company has 850 locations across the country, making it the second-largest burger chain in Canada. That’s a big win for French’s which uses 100 per cent Canadian-grown tomatoes. And it’s a big win for Leamington area tomato producers. It should be noted French’s also purchases its mustard seed from Saskatchewan.

The whole story should be sending signals to all of us as consumers. Social media has given the consumer a real opportunity to send a message to the companies that we support through our purchases. And, perhaps most importantly we can support shopping local, simply by reading the label and doing a little bit if research.

We know that in our region we grow the best honey, wheat, canola, fescue and oats, to name just a few. So why should we settle for anything less? It is true that product labels don’t always specify where that company purchases their tomatoes, or canola or oats.

We do not have a cereal manufacturer in our region, nor do we have a dog food company or a canola oil processor. But we can still support our local producers by supporting companies that use Smoky Region, Albertan and Canadian products in their production.

And when shopping on line look for local companies such as Du North Designs, out of McLennan. If you can’t find it locally, look within our province and within our country.

I know this story has made me a French’s fan. I will always choose French’s products and I will frequent A&W, because they support Canadian. When the Premier was in town a couple weeks ago, I made a point of purchasing local honey as a gift for her and the other Ministers and MLAs, from two of our producers, because it’s local and because it’s the best.

Shopping local isn’t just about visiting the shops and businesses on main street and in our communities. It’s about supporting the local economy any way you can.

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