Looking for a ketchup packet? Pandemic brings shortage to restaurants


LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — More people doing takeout and fast food are behind the latest shortage and you’ve likely noticed the need to ask for ketchup packets. They join a growing list of items impacted by lifestyle changes in our post-pandemic world.

Even if you ask, you might be limited to just two packets.

At fast food stops and many other restaurants these days, ketchup packets are a red-hot commodity. 

“I had to ask for the ketchup. I thought it was just because of like the pandemic, they were limiting on the touching, but that’s about it,” one customer told NewsNation.

More Americans doing fast food and takeout have ketchup packet supplies way down and prices are up by 13%.

In a statement, industry giant Kraft Heinz told NewsNation the company has made strategic investments to meet demand. 

Heinz is pumping up production by 25% to eventually deliver 12 billion ketchup packets a year. In case supply doesn’t catch up, consumers are already considering options.

Elsewhere on the food chain, the spike in pizza orders is impacting the supply of pepperoni. While big chains order in bulk, tighter supply has smaller operators paying about double.

Meantime, supply chain analysts are keeping an eye on flour and yeast levels due to continued pandemic baking.

Blocked-off pumps are popping up in places like Northwest Arkansas. Gas supplies are down due to the current switch to summer-grade fuels. Wintry weather back in February is also to blame.

“It really knocked out quite a bit of refining capacity on the Gulf Coast, which is the largest concentration in the United States,” said fuel analyst Denton Cinquegrana.

Last week, a leading toilet paper manufacturer warned of higher prices this summer due to inflation and the availability of raw materials.

It could mean a new run on toilet paper and other household items.

Many supply chain issues are linked to global shipping problems, impacting raw lumber and computer microchips.

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That has disrupted the lines at vehicle assembly plants. Thousands of cars are sitting around as manufacturers wait on the computer chips for the high-tech features consumers demand.

“It is a critical shortage. And it is highly problematic for this industry,” said John Bozella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation. “What we’re seeing is vehicles that are not getting produced as a result of this.”

Another factor in the microchip shortage is so many people upgrading smartphones and computers for work and school.

As for ketchup, along with more production, Heinz is also innovating. It’s already debuted a touch-less dispenser for restaurants. 

Full Heinz statement

“The unmatched consumer love for our iconic HEINZ brand as well as our longstanding partnership with the restaurant industry are two responsibilities we take very seriously – which was why we made strategic manufacturing investments at the start of the pandemic to keep up with the surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by the accelerated delivery and take-out trends; at the same time, we also fast-tracked future-focused culinary and packaging innovations, as well as further manufacturing expansion plans, as we believe there is an enormous opportunity to grow our brands in the exciting foodservice industry.” 

Steve Cornell, President, Kraft Heinz – Enhancers, Specialty and Away from Home Business Unit

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