A ketchup war is brewing, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is about to step into the middle of it.
Representing the United States is Heinz, which put 700 Canadian workers out of work in 2014 when it closed a plant in Canada’s tomato capital, a small southern Ontario town called Leamington. Anger and hand-wringing ensued.
Representing Canada is French’s, the mustard-maker, which began producing ketchup in Canada after the Heinz closure. In its bid for Canadian dollars, French’s even put a maple leaf on the bottle. Canadians rejoiced and bought French’s ketchup.
And on Sunday – which also happens to be Canada Day – Trudeau’s government is hitting back against the Trump administration’s tariffs on Canadian metals by slapping 16.6 billion in Canadian dollars ($12.6 billion) in tariffs on dozens of American-made products, including Heinz.
To mark the occasion, the prime minister will spend part of the day not in the capital but in tomato country, meeting “Canadians and their families” and visiting a food processing plant.
Buoyed by the consumer demand, French’s hired a contract manufacturer last year to set up a full production line in Toronto for its product. The labels, adorned with a maple leaf, read, “Bottled in Canada with 100 percent Canadian Tomatoes.”
Mitchell said that French’s has roughly doubled its market share in Canada for ketchup to 8 or 9 percent nationally, propelled by the made-in-Canada message, though Heinz still is the market leader.
Heinz will soon have more problems in the Canadian market. Ketchup, which is due to attract a 10 percent Canadian tariff as of Sunday, is one scores of U.S. products to be hit by levies in addition to U.S.-made steel and aluminum. Canadian authorities are aiming at politically sensitive states and products, including gherkin pickles, lawn mowers and toilet paper from Wisconsin.
The Canadian government has been careful to impose tariffs on a limited number of food categories, for which Canadian-made substitutes can be easily found, said Sylvain Charlebois, dean of the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University and a specialist in the food processing industry.
Special To The Washington Post · Alan Freeman