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From toilet paper to hand cleaners to disinfecting wipes, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to some major deficiencies throughout the United States. While supermarket aisles may have finally returned to their fully-equipped state, restaurants across the country are now facing a new and unique American shortage – ketchup.
“They’re really sweating over it. I mean it costs a lot,” says Heather Haddon, a restaurant reporter for Wall Street Journal. “It’s, you know, a service issue. So for these restaurant owners, it’s not a laugh.”
Originally, ketchup sales flourished. Retail sales of ketchup were 15% higher last year than in 2019. But when restaurants reopen, the popular spice runs up quickly.
“Everyone was at home, and the producers really prioritized grocery customers. So everyone ate their burgers and fries at home,” Haddon tells NPR’s All things Considered.
A big part of the problem is the need for individual disposable ketchup packs for pickup and delivery as opposed to large glass bottles that sit on top of restaurant tables.
“The producers have to move production back, and this is not something that can happen quickly or easily, ”she adds.
Haddon says package prices rose 13 percent, prompting restaurant owners to split ketchup into a single serving container.
Haddon says “some ordinary executives should, you know, go out to Costco or other wholesalers and just pull bottles off the shelf.”
One of the biggest challenges, she tells NPR, find alternatives to the most loyal Heinz fans.
“Heinz is really the favorite, so they have almost 70% of the US retail market share for ketchup,” she says. “People really love it and are pretty loyal to it.”
But help is on the way. The country’s largest ketchup supplier, Heinz, promised it would increase its ketchup production by 25%. The company will produce at least 12 billion packages to catch up.
Elena Burnett and Courtney Dorning produced and edited the audio story. Farah Eltohamy adapted it to the internet.