By Heather Haddon and Annie Gasparro
A ketchup shortage vexing restaurants has fueled a secondary
market -- an underground trade in coveted ketchup packets.
Diners with the good fortune to have a stash of saved ketchup
packets are listing them on eBay Inc. and Facebook Inc.'s
Marketplace to make a buck off the pandemic's latest supply-chain
Lindsey Cohen, a retiree from Indianapolis, logged onto eBay and
posted 20 Heinz ketchup packets for sale for $8 after The Wall
Street Journal reported April 5 on restaurants' squeezed ketchup
supplies. Ms. Cohen, who said she amassed her collection during
fast-food stops on a recent road trip, typically uses eBay to clear
clutter from her house but thought hawking ketchup sounded like
About 12 hours later, the packets sold. "I've never gone so far
as to sell condiments," said Ms. Cohen. With ketchup, she said, "I
jumped on the bandwagon."
The ketchup crunch is gripping U.S. restaurants just as they as
they are reopening dining rooms closed by Covid-19. Costs for the
tomato spread have risen, single-serve packets are in short supply,
and restaurant chains are canvassing distributors to locate Heinz,
the industry's top brand.
The pandemic forced full-service restaurants to turn to packets
instead of their usual bottles out of sanitary concerns, fueling a
spike in demand and straining supplies. Kraft Heinz Co. has put
priority on supplying fast-food and drive-through restaurants,
whose sales recovered faster than those of sit-down restaurants so
Many eBay sellers said they heard news of the shortage and
realized they needed to strike while the iron, or grill, was hot.
Some recalled how individual squares of toilet paper sold on eBay
during the shortage of that staple in the early days of the
pandemic; they didn't want to miss out on a potential ketchup
It's not exactly an efficient market. The prices in dozens of
ketchup-packet listings posted online range all the way from a
quarter to $5 each, the latter in a lot of 20 packets for $100.
Each has about a third of an ounce of ketchup.
Kent Reining, a Facebook Marketplace seller from Danville, Ill.,
offered packets for $4 each, or a bargain price of 20 for $50.
"There's a shortage," he wrote. "Don't try to lowball me, I know
what I've got."
Packets of Heinz have dominated the online listings, although
some offers feature Hunt's or a brand assortment. Joe Rich from Las
Vegas tried to offload 50 McDonald's-labeled ketchup packets for
$20. He says he had 143 views, no bidders, as of Tuesday night.
Colin Ashbaugh, a school-bus assistant from Lakewood, Colo.,
posted a single Heinz packet priced at $100. That started as a joke
between workers, he said. But the listing drew angry responses, and
one call to donate the packet to a needy restaurant.
Ms. Cohen, the eBay seller from Indianapolis, said when she
heard about the ketchup squeeze, experience taught her to move
quickly. She recalled how following the death of writer Maya
Angelou in 2014, she sold a signed book of Ms. Angelou's essays for
"It's all about supply and demand," she said.
On the other end of the ketchup continuum are fans like
Stephanie Sparks. The resident of Kent, Wash., has been sheltering
at home during the pandemic, nervously watching her ketchup
reserves diminish. Local fast-food restaurants have grown stingy
with the packets commonly included with takeout orders.
Beyond her own ketchup needs, Ms. Sparks worries about her
father, who she said has for years kept extra ketchup packets in
"I'm a little concerned he might break into one of those ancient
packets, " Ms. Sparks said.
Kraft Heinz says ketchup packets will retain their best flavor
for nine months. After that, they likely won't harm you, but the
ketchup might not taste as good.
Some businesses see opportunity. "Who said there was a ketchup
shortage?!" wrote Montreal-based condiments supplier Fody Foods Co.
on social media a week ago, advertising what it calls its "gut
friendly" alternative ketchup, sold at stores such as Whole
WRRV Radio in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., started giving ketchup packets
out to callers during its morning show Thursday. When he saw a lot
of unused packets in the break room, "I decided to spring into
action," said host Nick Kessler.
Kraft Heinz, too, has sought to spin the supply problem to its
advantage. Its Canadian arm encouraged consumers to post photos of
their stashes of Heinz ketchup packets on Twitter. Kraft Heinz said
it is working around the clock to build multiple new production
lines to meet demand.
Some see the ketchup shortage bringing people together. Packet
hoarders from Milwaukee and New York's Bronx borough have inquired
whether they could donate their stashes to restaurants in need. A
few eBay sellers said they posted ketchup packets to try to raise
money for charity, such as the Autism Research Institute.
On eBay last Wednesday, Storm Morales, an acupuncturist from
Bellport Village, N.Y., who has collected the packets from
food-delivery orders and kept them on hand in order to not waste
them, posted "Assorted Ketchup packets for Apocalypse Survival,"
with a starting bid of 99 cents for three packets. They were up to
$11.50 Tuesday night after six offers.
Mr. Morales's acupuncture business was closed for seven months
during the pandemic. "I felt like humor was the best medicine for
helping others, including myself, with the stress," he said.
Los Angeles barbershop owner Freddy Rocha said maybe his stash
of unopened packets accumulated from takeout food orders will
attract customers if they're short of ketchup. "We save the ketchup
packets and anything else in packets," he said. "Salt, sugar,
salsa...we have it."
Sue Kennedy in Calgary, Alberta, said the ketchup packets she
has amassed in her desk at work now feel like currency. "I'm
prepared for a French-fry emergency," she said.
But rather than cash in on her good fortune, Ms. Kennedy is
willing to share. "It's the Canadian way," she said.
Write to Heather Haddon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Annie
Gasparro at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 14, 2021 11:18 ET (15:18 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.