Condiment Crisis: A Ketchup Packet Shortage Is Squeezing America

Ketchup packets have grown scarce.
Ketchup packets have grown scarce. / Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

If you’ve grabbed a takeout meal lately, you might have noticed the bag has been short on ketchup packets. It’s not an isolated incident. Owing to supply chain issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, America is being squeezed for the tiny condiments.

Speaking to National Public Radio (NPR), Wall Street Journal restaurant reporter Heather Haddon said the closure of eat-in restaurants throughout the past year encouraged ketchup manufacturers like Heinz to redirect their production efforts to bottled ketchup that consumers purchase through grocery outlets. It was a sound strategy, as bottled ketchup sales were up 15 percent over 2019.

But demand for the packets was growing. Restaurants that had previously used bottled ketchup left on tables instead relied on the single-servings for takeout orders, increasing demand beyond fast food locations.

It’s not easy for manufacturers to immediately shift production back to making the one-time use packets, leaving eateries unable to pour a handful into a takeout bag. But Heinz is ramping up, pledging to increase packet production by 25 percent and produce 12 billion of them to address the shortage.

But not everyone wants to wait. Some enterprising ketchup dealers are offering packets on the secondary market, sometimes valuing them at a price that approaches performance art. (One Scranton, Pennsylvania, seller is asking $1200 for three packets.)

There are currently no widespread complaints of a mustard packet shortage.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]