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Loblaws (L.TO) has buckled under the weight of controversy in its condiment aisle. The grocery chain backed off its decision to discontinue sales of French’s ketchup after an uproar from angry consumers started trending on social media on Tuesday.
“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers,” said Kevin Groh, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs and communication, in a statement. “We will re-stock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product. We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible.”
French’s ketchup rose to social media stardom by touting the fact that its tomatoes are grown in small town Ontario, and processed at a plant formally owned by rival Heinz. More than 700 jobs were lost in Leamington, Ont. when H.J. Heinz Co. – owned by Warren Buffett’s and 3G Capital – closed a local plant in 2014 after 105 years of operation.
The swell of support for French’s ketchup can be traced to a Feb. 23 Facebook post by an Ontario man applauding French’s for bringing ketchup production back to Leamington.
“The result,” wrote Brian Fernandez in a post that has been shared over 130,000 times, “ketchup free of preservatives. Free of artificial flavours. Also, free of high fructose corn syrup!! We bought a bottle. Absolutely love it!! Bye. Bye. Heinz.”
“It was like kerosene and wind hitting the fire,” said marketing consultant Tony Chapman in an interview on BNN. “Next thing you know, everybody was talking about it.”
But Loblaws said the social media fervor did not translate to increased sales at its stores. The company’s response to twitter users Tuesday afternoon cited “low sales and demand.”
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph's department of marketing and consumer studies, said that the decision to drop French's ketchup from Loblaws' shelves is typical of the types of decisions grocery stores have to make all the time.
"Real estate is very expensive within a store, so they have to replace a product that doesn't really sell very well with a product that will sell very well," he told CTV News Channel, noting that most groceries stock an average of 47,000 products on their shelves.