Loblaws reversed their decision after this post was released. Here is my follow-up article.
This Story is Much Bigger Than French's Ketchup.
Loblaws controls 35% of the grocery business in Canada. When it sneezes, every national brand catches a cold. When it squeezes and delists you from its shelves, then your brand goes on life support.
Consumers rarely pay attention to the war for shelf space. They might be frustrated, even angry that their favourite brand or pack size isn't available, but it rarely leads to more than an emotional outburst.
This time, things could be different. Loblaws announced that they will no longer be selling French's Ketchup, made from locally grown Ontario Leamington Tomatoes, due to poor sales. They could have some rotten tomatoes thrown their way.
The issue isn't about another national brand no longer invited to the Loblaw party. The issue and opportunity are with 'locally grown and owned'.
In 2013, Heinz pulled out of manufacturing and sourcing in Leamington, Ontario and left 730 people without a job. The following year a company called Highbury Canco repurposed some of the plants and saved 250 jobs. They found a client in Britain's food giant Reckitt Benckiser who used their product to make their French's Ketchup. All of these went unnoticed until 2016, when Brian Fernandez bought one of their bottles, fell in love with the taste and the reclaiming of Canadian jobs story and posted his experience on social media.
The story captured the imagination of both mass and new media, giving Mr. Fernandez his 15 megs of fame while shining a spotlight on French's Ketchup that up then had rarely seen a hot dog, let alone any sales velocity.
Moments like this - when the public is engaged spells opportunity. Here is how I would react. If I were running Loblaws I would launch.
Canada's Choice: Locally Owned and Grown
Better for You, Better for Canada
If I was Galen Weston, I would launch an extension of President's Choice and call it Canada's Choice. Start with Ketchup manufactured in Canada, with locally grown tomatoes. I know he would be a proponent. I did a television show with him for two years called Recipe to Riches, where they turned homegrown Canadian chefs into Supermarket Superstars. (Who let me walk the streets with that facial hair?)
Loblaws could make Ketchup the 'Trojan Horse' of the lineup and then introduce other locally 'grown and owned' products that supported Canadian Farmers and Canadian workers. Pickles, Condiments, Marinades and more. Why? It's "Better for You, Better for Canada". (A 75 cent Canadian dollar makes this strategy not only desirable but affordable)
The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers is also a natural partner to jump on this opportunity. Provide a stage for local farmers and Made in Canada manufacturing.
French's Mustard: Go Clandestine
If I ran the French Brand, owned by Britain's Reckitt Benckiser, I would tread carefully. You don't want to poke the bear and piss off a supermarket giant like Loblaw. You want to leave it to your influencers, and the social media anarchists that live and breathe a David versus Goliath story like this one. Done right they will drop 10,000 gallons of kerosene and turn on a fan to turn this brush fire into ablaze. The impact will hurt. If 3% of Loblaw consumers decided to boycott the chain because they felt Loblaw squeezed Canadian jobs and farmers off the shelf, my bet is that they would bring back French's Ketchup.
Leamington: Make your Destiny a Matter of Choice, not Chance
Stop playing defence and relying on foreign companies to sell your tomatoes. If I were the Mayor of Leamington, I would earn my salary and then some. First I would wake the town up to taste the opportunity. I would remind our citizens that we are in the News, Television, Radio, Newspaper and Social Media. People now know us for the character of our tomatoes and our people! It's time to capitalize.
Our two-day Leamington Tomato Festival is fun, but this is the time to make our destiny a matter of choice, not chance. We need to sell our 'Grown in Leamington' produce and hire a few 'locally grown' marketers to create our own line of branded products. Create Canada's Best Ketchup, tomato sauce, hot sauce etc. A line of fresh from the farm, products, featuring organic produce & spices.
Phone the president of Shop.ca and have them build an e-commerce site. Hire reps and sell your products to grocery stores. Make your venture part of your tourist experience, like the Guinness Brewery in Dublin. Why not have tourists come in and join you for the tomato harvest, or learn how to craft their own personalized ketchup? Then think even bigger and copy your cousins on the East Coast who are selling tens of thousands of lobsters to China via sites like Ali Baba. Attention is the oxygen of marketing and this story has and will continue to be in the news. We need to stand for locally grown, crafted and manufactured.
It's time to Re-Invent, Re-Act, and Re-Imagine in the Age of Abundance.
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