Catch up, Ketchup!

Monday, January 24, 2022

I was reading a round-up of articles detailing important events from last year, and found that somehow, I missed the Great Ketchup Shortage of 2021!

Last Spring, several news outlets reported on the COVID-19 related shortage of Ketchup packets. The CDC recommended to "avoid using or sharing items that are reusable such as menus, condiments and any other food containers."

The Wall Street Journal reported that the problem hit America's most popular brand, Heinz, with shortages at chain restaurants like Long John Silver's and Texas Roadhouse.

Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio told Time Magazine, "The strain on demand started when people stopped going to restaurants and they were ordering takeout and home delivery." Heinz planned to combat the shortage by increasing single-serve packet production by about 25% to produce over 12 billion packets per year.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ketchup first appeared in 1682. In 18th century Britain, the word "ketchup" began to mean any number of thin dark sauces made of mushrooms or even walnuts. In the 19th century in the United States, tomato-based ketchup began to grow in popularity and recipes began to be published in cookbooks.

The Wikipedia article on ketchup tells us that tomato ketchup was originally sold locally by farmers. Jonas Yerkes is credited as the first American to sell tomato ketchup in a bottle. By 1837, he had produced and distributed the condiment nationally. Henry J. Heinz (in the pickle business since 1869) first launched his tomato "catsup” in 1876. 

Heinz tomato ketchup was advertised: "Blessed relief for Mother and the other women in the household!", a slogan that alluded to the lengthy process required to produce tomato ketchup in the home.

The H. J. Heinz Company pioneered processes for cleanliness and quality in food production and successfully led a lobbying campaign in favor of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

The ketchup packet was invented in 1955 when Harold Ross and Yale Kaplan received a patent for “Dispensing containers for liquids.”

In 1967, Heinz introduced their ketchup packets so people could finally take their love for ketchup on the road!

Perhaps as an effort to combat the ketchup packet shortage, in September of 2021, Heinz introduced the “Heinz Packet Roller”, a device specifically designed to extract the last drop of ketchup out of the packet. Shaped like a small ketchup bottle, the gadget cuts corners of condiment packets and helps roll out the small bags to fully extract their sauce.

These keychain sized accessories were sold here, but have since sold out.

If Cooking with Ketchup appeals to you, I suggest you rely on full-sized bottles instead of trying to squeeze the last bit of ketchup from the packets!


Linda Gross is the Reference Librarian in the Published Collections Department at Hagley Museum and Library.