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Restaurants In A Pickle Relish The Days They Had Ketchup As It May — Oh No — Run Out

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

From toilet paper to hand sanitizer to disinfecting wipes, the pandemic has exposed a number of supply chain problems and often left customers scrounging. Well, restaurants across the country are now facing a new and uniquely American shortage - ketchup.

HEATHER HADDON: They are really sweating over it. I mean, it's costing a lot. It's, you know, a service issue. So for these restaurant owners, it's not a laughing matter.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Heather Haddon covers restaurants for The Wall Street Journal, and she says the problem began at the start of the pandemic.

HADDON: Everyone was sheltering at home, and manufacturers really prioritized grocery customers. So everyone was, you know, eating their burgers and fries at home.

SHAPIRO: Initially, it was a boon for the industry. Retail ketchup sales were 15% higher last year than in 2019. But now there's not enough supply for restaurants, especially as many are reopening.

HADDON: The manufacturers have to shift production back, and that is not something that can happen quickly or easily.

CHANG: A big part of the problem is the need for single-use, individually packaged ketchup, as opposed to big glass bottles on tables. And the demand for those ketchup packets is a cost issue as well.

HADDON: Prices are up 13% for packets. I mean, that is actually pretty significant for all restaurants.

SHAPIRO: Many restaurants are divvying up the ketchup into a single-serving containers themselves. But without their usual suppliers, they have had to take matters into their own hands.

HADDON: Some general managers were having to, you know, go out to Costco or other wholesalers and just pull bottles off the shelf.

SHAPIRO: And one of the most challenging things - finding alternatives to Heinz.

HADDON: Heinz really is the favorite, so they have nearly 70% of the U.S. retail market share for ketchup. People do really love it and are pretty loyal to it.

CHANG: The company is trying to pay back that loyalty by opening up two manufacturing lines this month dedicated to catch up production of packets for food service. In the meantime, all of those Heinz ketchup lovers can draw inspiration from the company's iconic ad.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

CARLY SIMON: (Singing) Anticipation, anticipation is making me wait.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thick, rich Heinz ketchup - the taste that's worth the wait.

CHANG: I guess we'll have to see how long ketchup lovers are willing to wait.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.