In early March, Canada’s largest grocery store chain Loblaws pulled French’s Ketchup from its shelves eliciting a social media uproar until it was brought back just a week later. If you’ve doubted the power of social media before, here’s your case and point of why it’s an important factor in all communication plans.

Adding insult injury, a leaked memo from a middle-manager at Loblaw’s revealed that it wasn’t just the social media crisis that had executives backtracking, but rather the fact that French’s Ketchup negatively impacted sales of the store brand ketchup. One of the key differentiators between the two brands is the source of the product.

French’s Ketchup uses Canadian tomatoes though doesn’t carry the “Made in Canada” branding while Loblaw’s “Made in Canada” President’s Choice Ketchup brand uses tomatoes from California. Made in Canada or not, this is confusing right? The lesson from all brands is that beyond messaging, the Canadian content of your product is a branding and communication tool in itself.

Work more closely with journalists for this year’s holiday pitching season, read our tool kit

Made in Canada is only 51 per cent Canadian

Canada’s Competition Bureau has two classifications for Canadian made products: Made in Canada and Product of Canada. The former requires 51 per cent of the product to be grown or produced in the country, which includes the final stage of production. That’s how French’s managed to use Californian tomatoes, stew them, bottle the mixture, and call it a “Made in Canada” product.

The second classification requires that 98 per cent of the product and its costs originate north of the 49th Parallel. That would mean French’s bottle, label and tomatoes that make the ketchup would all have to be Canadian produced elements, as well as the final assembly.

Heinz Loss Is French’s Gainketchup (1)

Until 2013 Heinz had the title of Canada’s most popular brand of ketchup, a product that had been produced in Leamington, Ontario for more than a century. Then in November of that year, after being purchased by Warren Buffet and 3G Capital, Heinz shuttered its Leamington facility leaving 740 Canadians out of a job and a community reeling with an identity crisis after its largest employer bailed on the community.

Fast forward two years, French’s scooped up Ontario’s prized tomatoes in January. One month after later, Ontario-resident Brian Fernandez shared a post on Facebook about the Leamington job losses and French’s use of Ontario tomatoes that later went viral. Combined with the news of Loblaws pulling French’s from stores, his post got more than 133,000 shares.

crisis ad

French’s Canadianization extends to its brand partnerships as well with $0.10 from each bottle goes to the Canadian Food Bank. Not bad from a made in the U.S.A. product. Even if you don’t have the Made in Canada label, partnerships can help you red-and-white wash your brand.

Racing towards Canadian product

Loblaws has announced that it is exploring sourcing Canadian grown tomatoes, meanwhile, French’s has plans to open a plant to produce its ketchup in southern Ontario. A social crisis has turned into a race toward “Product of Canada” ketchup.

What this controversy displays is that consumers are savvy enough to look beyond a moniker or a specific product claim. A brand’s strength is in the sum of its parts, share the story of your product’s unique elements or risk losing out on the fruit of your labours.

 Learn how to navigate your own social media crisis using influencer marketing.

About James Rubec

James Rubec is a data geek, a former public relations lead and journalist with a love of content and advocacy. Ask him anything @JamesRRubec and be sure to follow @Cision_Canada

Read previous post:
How Canada Views the U.S. Election

We know what Americans think about their election, but what about us Canucks?