Red alert! Covid-19 pandemic leads to ketchup packet shortage, Internet jokes 'sauce another condiment'

An increase in takeout and delivery has led to a severe shortage in packets, as well as a 13% price rise

                            Red alert! Covid-19 pandemic leads to ketchup packet shortage, Internet jokes 'sauce another condiment'
Pandemic leads to ketchup packet shortage (Getty Images)

The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted a large number of supply chains. From meat to oil and computer chips to toilet paper, we've seen a radical shift in many parts of the economy. The latest victim? Ketchup packets. 

Yes, you read that right. Due to the pandemic, the United States is facing a severe shortage of ketchup packets, leading to a 13% price rise since January 2020. The crisis is a result of the increase in takeout and deliveries, forcing restaurants to use more packets than they normally would. Unfortunately for them, supply hasn't been able to keep up. It's not just smaller restaurants facing the crunch though, even large chains like Texas Roadhouse and Long John Silver are unable to find packets. 


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It doesn't mean you will have to forgo your favorite condiment just yet, but it could be possible at least for the next few months till manufacturers are able to meet demand. Thankfully, Heinz is working on doing just that, but it could be a while before we see the market return to normal. 

Food delivery couriers wait in line at a McDonald's restaurant on March 8, 2021 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Getty Images)

America's ketchup crisis

The shortage was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, who found that "managers are using generic versions, pouring out bulk ketchup into individual cups and hitting the aisles of Costco for substitutes." How did it get that bad? For starters, the closure of restaurants led to a collapse in demand for 20oz table-top bottles, but an increase in demand for 114oz cans. Analytics platform Plate IQ noted, "steady demand for those larger cans created a sharp increase in price". 

Adding to that, was the sharp rise in demand for packets. Delivery orders became the key for restaurants to stay in business but meant that they needed more packets than usual. After all, almost all major American dining options can be complemented with ketchup. From burger to fries and chicken to onion rings, ketchup goes well with nearly everything. It has been an industry standard to provide packets for takeaways and Covid-19 didn't change that practice. 

Now, however, we could be paying the price. It's not just delivery, but dining-in that is also adding to the pressure. CDC guidelines recommend restaurants avoid having customers share "menus, condiments, and any other food containers". As a result, many have turned to provide ketchup packets for in-restaurant dining as well. Together, the surge in demand has caught manufacturers off guard. Kraft Heinz, the company responsible for Heinz ketchup, told USA Today that it was working to increase production by 25%.

Heinz reportedly owns 70% of the ketchup market, making them by far the most important company in the crisis. The company identified the issue early on, telling USA Today it "made strategic manufacturing investments at the start of the pandemic". It knows that those investments haven't paid off, and has promised to double down, pushing out an additional 12 million packets a year. Heinz also developed a no-touch dispenser late last year, but that hasn't done much to help avert the crisis.

Heinz did not provide a timeline for its increased output, so we would recommend getting out that giant bottle you may have hidden in the back of your shelf or fridge. In the meantime, social media saw the funny side of the story, with many reacting hilariously to the news.

In this photo illustration, Heinz Tomato Ketchup is shown on March 25, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Getty Images)


'They'll ketchup soon' hopes Twitter

From silly puns to 2020 bingo card references, Twitter was filled with funny responses. Journalist Mark Sparrow tweeted, "US restaurants face ketchup package shortage amid Covid pandemic. They'll have to sauce another condiment." Another person said, "@BBCNorfolk don't worry about the tomato sauce shortage I'm sure they'll ketchup soon"





One user joked, "Who had ketchup packet shortage on their pandemic bingo card?" Another replied to the news, "Best tasting bit of most American junk food my heart goes out to them"





"If ketchup shortage is gonna lead to Armageddon, what is left for the asteroid then?" asked one user. Another poked fun at ketchup lovers and tweeted, "With the ketchup packet shortage maybe this is the chance for people to eat their hot dogs and chicken nuggets without ketchup as god intended."





One user provided a more ominous response, tweeting, "The sad and bitter decline of America most latch onto lack of affordable health care, student loan debt, and right wing lunacy, but truly the end approaches for this once great nation because of the Great Ketchup Shortage of 2021."



Others didn't seem so pleased. One person tweeted, "A ketchup packet shortage is probably about the LAST thing I expected COVID to bring us." Another person asked, "Seriously, a ketchup shortage?" Yet another person asked, "What I do to deserve a ketchup shortage?"







We'd recommend you don't panic just yet, but it can't hurt to have a bottle or two at home in case your local restaurant does run dry. Prices of packets have shot up, but you should be able to get bottles at regular, if not a slightly increased cost. Worst case, you might have to resort to generic sauce or alternatives like mayo or mustard till Heinz is able to meet demand. 

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