The Ketchup War (updated)

July 4, 2018

July 1st Canada responded to Trump’s trade war. Tariffs on steel and aluminum on top of softwood lumber and Bombardier aircraft made Canadian journalists and politicians jumpy, but then Trump shot off his mouth and Canadians got behind retaliatory tariffs on a shopping cart of items.

News stories invariably refer to whiskey, boats, sleeping bags, maple syrup and Harley Davidsons when they talk of the trade war, but I would suggest to you than none of the items on that list mean much, except for Heinz Ketchup.

Heinz Ketchup. “I’ll wait for the Heinz.” How many times have you heard that slogan? It has been the punch line in generations of high-quality T.V. ads designed to make the Heinz Ketchup brand identification as visceral as any. Product placements surpass those of Coca Cola.

But Heinz, a major employer in Leamington, Ontario “The Tomato Capital of Canada”, abruptly dumped its Canadian supplier and moved the factory south. Well-read shoppers took umbrage and discovered that French’s Ketchup could easily fill the niche as Canada’s ketchup, if they could dragoon Loblaw’s into stocking it. Loblaw’s did, and other supermarkets followed. French’s Ketchup may now appear on a bottom shelf, but it is at least present in the store.

The next squabble may be fought in fast food chains, where the bulk stuff and the nasty little plastic packets will need to change their brand labels, if not the actual content, in order to protect their bottom line.

But The Ketchup War will succeed or fail on the very type of decision which put Donald Trump in the White House. The supermarket ketchup aisle has become a ballot box, complete with its moment of private introspection where the barrage of subliminal information meets one’s private urges, prejudices, aspirations and pocket-book calculations.  The shopper must consciously reflect upon the choice of condiment. Will they* wear their maple leaf on their sleeve and boycott Heinz, or follow deeply-ingrained habits and grab another bottle of the all-too-available foreign product?  (*I know.  The mangled pronoun agreement gives me feelings of nausea as well, but the language has changed.)

Update, 4 July, 2018, 12:33 p.m.:

My wife read this over and demanded that I remove a comment she had made about the relative unavailability of alternatives to Heinz Ketchup in smaller supermarkets, so I have complied with her desire. She further reported that the display of large ketchup bottles she examined at Gordanier’s in Elgin this morning is located on a bottom shelf. Half of the display markets store brands: President’s Choice and No Name, in equal proportion. She noticed little depletion on this portion of the shelf. The other half of the display allocates the space equally to Heinz and French’s. Both appeared to have been equally depleted by the weekend shopping blitz.

Update, 9 July, 10:30 a.m.

CBC Business Reporter Sophia Harris has an article on The Ketchup Wars on the CBC website this morning.  The head marketing guy for Heinz is whining about the unfairness of the ketchup tariff, yada yada yada.  The compilers of the Canadian tariff list  seem to have taken a dim view of town-killing decisions by American businesses.  Heinz got it for leaving Leamington tomato growers and processing-plant workers in the lurch.  Hershey’s Chocolate received similar vengeful thoughts when the charitable corporation (I read the charter) pulled the factory operation out of Smiths Falls with no plausible reason to do so.  There was labour peace, a skilled work force, status as the largest employer in town — Hell, the water tower still advertises Hershey!  Still, they put 550 people out of work and abandoned a profitable factory in perfect condition.

But just wait and see what happens if Trump puts a tariff on automobiles.  Then it will be time to go after the drug patents controlled by American drug companies.  I’m inclined to think that the enabling legislation is already written, and there won’t be any month-long delay this time.  Let’s see how Trump reacts to the president of a drug company shooting out his porch light.  Big Pharma has more money than the auto sector.

If you feel helpless but angry in the face of a trade war, take heart from the gander in the video.


One Response to “The Ketchup War (updated)”

  1. Tom Stutzman Says:

    At Kudrinkos, I observed folks inspecting grocery items’ country of origin, and rejecting those made state side. Proud Canadians sending a volley in “The Ketchup War”.

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