If you reside in Southern Ontario you’re probably well aware of the controversy surrounding Hienz Ketchup’s decision to abandon it’s Highbury Canco factory in Leamington in 2014, leaving 740 employees out of work. This decision to move was only the beginning of the Heinz story. For those not aware, Leamington Ontario was the self proclaimed Tomato Capital of Canada until 2014, evidenced my the endless tomato farms and greenhouses that can be seen from almost all major highway’s in the area.
When Hienz turned their back on Leamington, they left a lot of farmers and tomatoes behind. Seeing an opportunity, French’s (another lesser known American ketchup brand and competitor) began sourcing tomato paste from the Highbury Canco factory previously owned by Heinz. This of course made tomato farmers and plant employees happy. Inevitably, social media got wind of the “warm fuzzy” inducing story about French’s rescuing the tomato farms and almost immediately, residents in southern Ontario felt that it was their duty to abandon their Heinz ketchup for the less expensive, locally produced French’s product.
Here’s where the story takes a turn. The wild popularity of the social media pro French’s ketchup campaign created quite a stir and really resonated deeply with consumers, myself included. I personally went into my local Loblaws store (the 6th most expensive Loblaws int the entire country) and quickly grabbed one of the two remaining bottles of French’s ketchup that had been overlooked by others as it was tucked in, way in the back of the bottom of the empty shelf. I felt overjoyed as I raised the small red French’s bottle over my head as if I had just seemingly won the Stanley Cup. After pulling myself together I looked on in amazement to find that the neatly arranged Heinz ketchup bottles sitting at eye level were completely untouched and a bright red and black sign hanging from the shelf stated, Heinz ketchup was on sale for $2.99. My French’s was $4.99, but I knew better, I could see through this lame attempt to regain me as a customer. I go home and proudly post a picture to my Facebook account professing my new love for French’s ketchup. Moments later I receive a private message from a friend inquiring as to where I found the precious rare bottle of sugar and tomatoes. I quickly respond with the coordinates to my friend warning her “they’ve put Heinz on sale but don’t take the bait”.
Fast forward 48 hours. As I sip my morning cup of coffee, I open my iPad to read my daily news and to my horror I see a lead story that states “Loblaws stops stocking French’s ketchup” It doesn’t take a genius to see that Heinz felt they would be well served by strong-arming Loblaws into removing French’s ketchup from Loblaws shelves with the threat of making numerous other Heinz products unavailable to the Grocery Store giant. The speed at which Loblaws relented to Heinz was nothing short of amazing, especially considering the fact that they were all of a sudden selling a lot of ketchup regardless of manufacturer. Well, as it turns out, Loblaws would like to back up that bus on that story and suggest to you this, “We’ve heard our Loblaws customers” and they would like you to know that they are reversing their decision to discontinue selling French’s ketchup.
I believe that Heinz is way out of line by employing their strong-arm, borderline coercion tactics in making sure that their products continue to fly off of the shelf. With that being said, I think the real offending party in this ketchup caper is Loblaws themselves. Loblaws has no interest in listening to their customers however, the were definitely listening to MPP Taras Natyshak calling for a complete boycott of Loblaws, and the grocery retailer knew first hand that the traction surrounding the story on social media was unstoppable. In panic mode, Loblaws quickly changed their tune.
Grocery stores as a whole are overly self righteous and empowered. Quite a statement I know, before you roll your eyes at my submission, consider this… what business, aside of a grocery store, penalizes you for spending more money? If you have $200 worth of groceries in your cart, you are forced to wait in line with the rest of the big spenders while you watch the “VIP” customer, buying a lone loaf of bread and a lotto ticket, whiz through the “8 items or less line” You also better be ready to pay $0.05 per plastic bag for all of those expensive groceries as well. You had better dig out that credit card fast because you also may have to bag those groceries yourself sucker. Come holiday season you will see the big cardboard box just past the checkout lines with a sign asking that you kindly donate some non perishable items to the foodbank or the less needy. I would assert that donating goods to the needy, while Loblaws charges you full price, means that you’re giving to the needy while Loblaws is making 100% of their standard profit on the item. I would be far more compelled to help out if Loblaws reduced 50% of their profit from an item provided you donate it, making it cheaper for me to contribute, and Loblaws could spin this into a contribution on their part as well.
I live in a quaint little resort ski town and we are surrounded by farms. I have easier access than most when it comes to availability of fresh foods from Curry’s farmers market and I try to do the bulk of my produce shopping there. This year I will try even harder and I will be taking my packaged goods grocery business elsewhere. I don’t see Loblaws being able to provide me with anything that isn’t available anywhere else. Imagine my recent joy in discovering the brand new Foodmart 400 meters down the road from where I work. They also have lots of French’s ketchup however the chilli I had from the deli was cold. Be informed and aware as to where you shop and who you give your business to. Today’s consumer is more informed than ever before and each of us should consider our business and shopping dollars rare.
M.Joe Steeves, Director of Sales and Marketing, Lead Assign