(CNN) – When the doors to the Blake Street Tavern open daily, owner Chris Fuselier is on the hunt for patrons and ketchup pouches. “Absolutely,” says the Denver restaurateur. “Looking back, if you had asked me the question 18 months ago, would I have any concerns about the ketchup shortages, I would have said ‘Are you crazy?'”
But since then, Fuselier has plunged more and more into the mad search for sachets of ketchup for his customers. “It’s gotten so bad that when I go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s,” he says, “I’m going to accumulate these extra packages to bring them back to Blake Street.”
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He is not alone. Shortages of ketchup – especially in the packages that often come with your take-out order – began to appear across the country last summer, and the plot thickened. How did it happen? It started with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discouraging traditional on-site catering at restaurants and instead suggesting more pandemic-friendly options like delivery and take-out.
Suddenly, restaurants coast to coast were packing up entrees, side dishes, and cold drinks for a constant series of people working from home whirling around in their cars. These customers were expecting condiments. These traditional restaurants therefore jumped into direct competition with fast food establishments, which had also closed their dining rooms and increased their orders of ketchup packages.
Demand and prices have gone up, the supply has gone down.
Heinz, the country’s largest ketchup producer, is at the epicenter of the problem and is taking action to address it. Just days ago, the company announced “a 25% increase in production, totaling 12 billion packets of ketchup … per year.”
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“We made strategic investments in manufacturing early in the pandemic to address the surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by accelerated delivery and take-out trends; at the same time, we have also accelerated forward-looking culinary and packaging innovations, as well as other manufacturing expansion plans, ”said Steve Cornell, president of Enhancers, Specialty and Off. home of Kraft Heinz.
That’s a long way of saying that the ketchup giant doesn’t want anyone to come along looking for some flavor as the pandemic wears off.
In Colorado, there’s even more urgency right across from Coors Field where Fuselier has his popular restaurant. Unexpectedly enough, the Major League Baseball All Star game hits town in July, promising a godsend after a tough year.
He agrees to follow the demand for ketchup, stocking as much as he can. Laughing, he said, “I’m going to order now. No kidding. I have 100 days. “
By Tom Foreman, CNN
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