First it was toilet paper.  Then masks.  Along the way during the (more than a) year-long COVID-19 Pandemic, we've also seen shortages of breakfast cereals, pickles, lumber and building supplies, hand-sanitizer, vehicles, and numerous other items.  Now it's time to add another item to the list:  ketchup.  In particular, ketchup packets.

So what's fueling the nationwide shortage of ketchup packets? In large part its the changing restaurant industry over the past year.  While ketchup packets have been a part of the routine for years - ever since their introduction in the mid-1950's, never has their widespread use been as high as its been over the past year.

The reasons for the high demand for ketchup packets is easy to determine.  Prior to the pandemic, a larger volume of restaurant food was consumed in-house - as in, dine-in or sit-down fashion. Restaurant customers in situations like that were able to use the ketchup that was provided to them in the bottle or squeeze-container that was placed on the table.  However when the pandemic struck, most restaurants were forced to alter their business model into some form of take-out, curbside, or delivery; each one of those options called for a higher volume of those ubiquitous ketchup packets being included as part of the order - leading to a supply and demand problem.

Ketchup Packets
Craig Veltri

According to some reports, the price of ketchup packets has risen sharply over the past year. Business Insider suggests that they've risen "13% percent since January 2020". Those costs have sent restaurants scrambling to obtain wholesale ketchup packets for their customers.  It's also led to increasing expenses for businesses.   One fast food chain - Long John Silver's - reports that "it had spent an extra $500,000 on ketchup this past year because of soaring demand combined with the fact that single-serve portions cost more than bottles".  $500,000!  And when you factor those increased expenses into business budgets that were already decreased due to an off-set in business, it's easy to see why there's a problem.

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While the supply line for ketchup packets is currently slacking, there are plans to help improve the problem  Kraft Foods - manufacturer of the largest-volume-selling ketchup Heinz - has "plans to open multiple manufacturing lines this month".  Their efforts should "increase production by around 25% and bring it's total yearly production to more than 12 billion packets".  That increase in production should hopefully satisfy our collective pandemic take-out demand for ketchup.

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