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Ketchup shortage hits restaurants across the United States

The latest supply chain shortage is related to one of the country's favorite condiments.
/ Source: TODAY

If you're someone who appreciates the phrase "I put ketchup on my ketchup," you'll be interested (and perhaps slightly horrified) to hear about the latest supply chain shortage to hit the country.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, ketchup packets are apparently in short supply right now and restaurants and fast-food chains are struggling to keep up with the demand.

Ketchup has always been a staple condiment for Americans, but since the pandemic forced many restaurants to ramp up their takeout game, the demand for those handy individual packets quickly skyrocketed. And the rules of supply and demand have led to a 13% increase in ketchup packet prices since 2020, according to WSJ.

Fast-food chains have always handed out these disposable packets, but sit-down restaurants have traditionally placed bottles of ketchup on tables or poured it out into a bowl for customers. With both food service models now competing for packets, or sachets, as industry experts call them, the supply chain has been stretched to its limit.

Kraft Heinz is, of course, the most well-known ketchup manufacturer, and the company makes up nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market for ketchup, according to WSJ. With more people eating at home, ketchup bottle sales have also increased 15% in the last year, to over $1 billion in 2020.

As a result of the supply chain shortage, many restaurants are limiting the number of packets they give to customers or resorting to purchasing generic ketchup brands they normally don't use. Some popular fast-food chains like Long John Silver's and Texas Roadhouse have even had to reach out to secondary suppliers for the packets.

Steve Cornell, Kraft Heinz’s president of Enhancers, Specialty and Away from Home Business Unit, told TODAY Food the company is working hard to keep up the demand for those coveted ketchup packets as the takeout industry continues to explode.

“The unmatched consumer love for our iconic HEINZ brand as well as our longstanding partnership with the restaurant industry are two responsibilities we take very seriously – which was why we made strategic manufacturing investments at the start of the pandemic to keep up with the surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by the accelerated delivery and take-out trends," he wrote in an email statement.

Cornell also noted that Kraft Heinz has been looking into new packaging options to help evolve with its industry.

"At the same time, we also fast-tracked future-focused culinary and packaging innovations, as well as further manufacturing expansion plans, as we believe there is an enormous opportunity to grow our brands in the exciting foodservice industry,” he said.

Fans of the 150-year-old ketchup brand will recall that Kraft Heinz invented a single-serve ketchup tray called the Dip & Squeeze in 2011. In November 2020, the brand also launched a no-touch dispenser to help offer restaurants a sanitary way to allow customers to dispense their own condiments.

Looking ahead to the future, Cornell said the company is banking on its multiple new production lines, which he hopes will yield a 25% increase in production, amounting to 12 billion ketchup packets a year.

Ketchup packets are simply the latest shortage in the wake of the pandemic. It started with everyone running out to buy toilet paper at the beginning of lockdown. Meat shortages soon ran rampant and home bakers also bought up flour and yeast in droves.

Oddly enough, fridges were also in short supply, as were Mason jars since people began taking up pickling as a hobby. Even pepperoni wasn't spared, and the price of the popular pizza topping started rising over the summer.

If you can't find your beloved ketchup packets or bottles, know that making your own is always an option.