Ketchup shortage hits restaurants, fast food chains across the US

Close-up of container of Heinz brand ketchup packets in restaurant setting, Lafayette, California, November 6, 2020. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Restaurants can’t catch up with the demand for ketchup.

Prices for ketchup packets have gone up 13% since January 2020, according to data from Plate IQ, a restaurant industry technology platform, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. A shortage of America’s favorite condiment is the latest to hit the foodservice industry amid an increased demand for takeout amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gone are the days of shared ketchup bottles at tables, now replaced by individual packets at many restaurants across the country. Current health and safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises restaurants to "avoid using or sharing items that are reusable such as menus, condiments and any other food containers" to curb the spread of the virus. More specifically, the CDC suggests the use of "single serving condiments."

America’s most widely used ketchup brand, Heinz, which holds the majority of market share in the U.S., told the Journal it plans to increase its production by around 25%, at over 12 billion packets per year. The brand said it couldn’t keep up with orders for its ketchup packets. To combat this, restaurants have reportedly scrambled to find alternatives for the tomato sauce spread. Chains like Texas Roadhouse and Long John Silvers reportedly were in short supply with some employees having to run to big box stores to buy other brands. 

With more people cooking at home during the pandemic, retail sales of ketchup were up 15% in 2020, as compared with 2019, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor, per the Journal.

Ketchup is the latest product facing supply chain issues during the pandemic. There have been shortages of flour from the great baking boom early on during quarantine when many Americans tried baking sourdough bread during the pandemic. Pepperoni was also in short supply with more people ordering pizza during stay-at-home orders. And more people consuming alcohol and buying beverages for at-home consumption led to a global shortage of aluminum cans.

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