America Is Running Low on Ketchup Packets

Public health measures — and a rash of takeout orders — put pressure on packaged condiments.

If you order fries from a fast-food establishment during April, don’t be shocked if they tell you they’re out of ketchup.

America is currently facing a ketchup packet crisis — the latest food commodity facing major disruption due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, restaurants nationwide are scrambling to find ketchup packets that have been depleted as more Americans ordered takeout throughout the pandemic.

Meanwhile, many establishments that allowed indoor dining switched from ketchup bottles to packets as a hygienic safety measure.

This, in turn, caused a shortage of the packets that's now felt by retailers both large and small — and forced ketchup manufacturers to raise their prices considerably. The Journal cited data from restaurant-business platform Plate IQ showing that packet prices are up 13% since Jan. 2020, and that their market share has soared compared to bottles of the same product.

Even major fast-food retailers are hunting for the tabletop staple. The Journal noted that Long John Silver’s had to seek secondary suppliers, and that the shortage has cost the company an extra half-million dollars since the pandemic started because single-serve packets are pricier than bulk containers.

Ketchup is the most-consumed table sauce at American eateries, with about 300,000 tons sold to foodservice in 2020, according to Euromonitor. And at home, the pandemic resulted in a 15% jump in retail ketchup sales last year to more than $1 billion.

Kraft Heinz is the biggest name in ketchup, holding almost 70% of the U.S. retail market. But even it is having a hard time keeping up with demand. In response, the company plans to open to new production lines in coming months to boost its ketchup manufacturing by around 25% to more than 12 billion packets annually. 

The company told the Journal that it is already running extra shifts at its factories and cut back on other varieties in order to focus on single-serve packet production. On top of that, Kraft Heinz has invented a touchless ketchup dispenser as an alternative to shared bottles.

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