It has been nearly impossible in the last couple months to talk about local food and not talk about ketchup. Yes, you read that right, ketchup.
Tomatoes have long been big business in the Municipality of Leamington, beginning in 1908 when the H.J. Heinz factory opened its doors in town. Known as the tomato capital of Canada and home to an annual Tomato Festival in August, the association between Leamington and the ‘red stuff’ is strong.
So, when Heinz announced in November 2013 it would be shutting its Leamington plant, laying 740 people out of work and affecting hundreds of families living in the region in the process, you can bet the citizens (and the rest of Ontario) were seeing red.
After Canadian investment company Highbury Canco bought the former ketchup plant, they restarted production, saving 250 of the former jobs in the process. It was a start. But what about that beloved ketchup?
Although Heinz still produces other products at the plant such as vinegar and tomato juice (through a five-year contract with Highbury), it wasn’t until French’s swooped in wearing a red cape marked ‘K’ that ketchup made its triumphant return. In addition to their beloved mustard, French’s has added ketchup to their condiment arsenal. And not just any ketchup – ketchup made with 100% Leamington grown tomatoes.
No surprise here – the ketchup loving crowd has gone wild.
There’s been a huge outpouring on social media for the new darling of the fry truck scene. When Loblaws’ announced they would be taking the product off the shelves (initially citing low sales and demand), the deafening public outcry led to a swift reversal of that decision. If anything, the Case of the Reappearing Ketchup at Loblaws’ has only deepened support for French’s across the board.
Meanwhile, over at Queen’s Park, they’ll soon start serving the ketchup to Ontario’s political powerhouses, thanks in part to a widely circulated petition by Taras Natyshak, New Democrat MPP for Essex.
It’s not just Ontarians — support for French’s ketchup has spread across the country. The story of an underdog ketchup brand has galvanized Canadians, many who have watched as factories and food processing plants have packed up and headed to other countries. Not this time though. We’ve shown that if there’s an opportunity to purchase a product that supports our farmers and our local economy, we’ll make that choice. Score one for the local food system!
Note: It is important to clarify that while French’s actually produces its ketchup at two plants (one in Toronto and the other across Lake Erie in Ohio), the tomato paste they use is made solely from tomatoes grown by Leamington farmers.
Look for this label at your local grocery store. That’s the new French’s Ketchup!
Have you tried it? Let us know what you think. Just tweet, gram and message @OCTA_licious.