Message in a Bottle: Canadian Ketchup, Social Media and the Supply Chain

JenniferDEE    June 14, 2017

Few condiments hold a candle to this savory-sweet, palate-pleasing treat enjoyed by adults and children alike. Ketchup, your pairings are endless: eggs, bacon, bologna, hot dogs, fries, burgers, sausages, onion rings, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, fish sticks…alright maybe not endless. That’s getting pretty close to an exhaustive list, as far as any self-respecting person can enumerate. Yes, this powerful condiment possesses an innate ability to make-or-break your summer BBQ. And it recently showed off some of its unique power to rally social media supporters in a very surprising way.

Canadian Connoisseurs Speak Up

In March 2016, Loblaws decided to pull French’s ketchup from its shelves without warning, inciting a viral backlash demanding Loblaws re-list the item. The sense of importance associated with this particular product most likely stems from its local origins. French’s ketchup is made with tomatoes grown here in Canada; Leamington, Ontario to be geographically precise. Thus it’s a source of national pride, of small-town Canadian jobs and, ultimately, of significance extending well beyond something squeezed from a bottle.

This high level of engagement in the supply chain management process led Globe and Mail food columnist Sylvan Charlebois to declare in his Ketchup Wars opinion piece that “the politics of food distribution are alive and well in Canada”. Many speculated that unfair competitive practices among vendors may have had something to do with Loblaws’ decision to de-list the product. Finding evidence to support this theory is challenging. However, the ketchup story illustrates how the complexities of food retailing are increasingly intermingling with unexpected social media uprisings.


Consumers as CEOs of Food-Supply Chain

Increasingly, the consumer is the true CEO of the food-supply chain. Empowered by social media, consumers are influencing how food is produced, manufactured and distributed. When the public became aware that Loblaws had delisted the product,  #FrenchsKetchup was the No. 1 Twitter handle for two days. The rapid return of French’s ketchup to Loblaws after mere hours of a Twitter campaign decrying its absence illustrates the power that social media + consumers wield over the the supply chain. For this kind of campaign, Twitter is unlike any other data source on the planet. It’s real-time. It’s public. It’s a conversational and global information platform of voices.

With absolutely imperfect information, consumers reversed a well-considered decision made by the largest grocery retailer in the country. The French’s-Loblaws case illustrates that the supply chain is not only about distribution, it’s about how an output is perceived within the marketplace.

Social Media and the Supply Chain

By definition, supply chains are large. They’re comprised of a network of buyers, suppliers, vendors, manufacturing plants, logistics service providers, etc. Therefore, if social media is embedded in the supply chain, information can be gathered from a broad base of sources. This collective intelligence can be used to uncover evolving trends or make better-informed decisions.

Social media benefits the supply chain in many ways. Companies can:

  • Monitor supplier and vendor reputations
  • Facilitate responses to supply chain disruption
  • Mitigate risk
  • Enhance marketplace intelligence

And businesses that ignore social media as part of the supply chain forgo these opportunities, missing out on potential business development. In particular, Twitter’s source of rich, real-time data combined with other data sources and sophisticated analytical tools can provide companies with valuable, non-intuitive insights, leading to smarter decisions. Social media’s applicability in the supply chain is clearly illustrated in the French’s – Loblaws case. Consumers angered by Loblaws’ initial decision to remove the French’s product accused the grocery giant on Twitter of discriminating against Canadian farmers and processors. While social media appropriately amplified the issue, it also allowed Loblaws to quickly and intelligently respond to the market volatility it had created.

Lessons for Others

Social media’s influence over the supply chain ultimately rewrote French’s fate. The general public was quite unaware of Loblaws’ decision to pull the ketchup until the news spread on social media. And what was perceived as a rational and strategic corporate decision by Loblaws was quickly transformed into a different story entirely. The story of French’s return is a social media campaign of Canadians supporting a company that champions local farming and small-town jobs.

While Loblaws successfully demonstrated its ability to include consumers in the supply chain decision-making process, other companies remain at an inflection point when it comes to the use of social technologies. Many organizations continue to tread slowly and cautiously toward the “social era” echoing the same fears and concerns they had about the Internet twenty years ago. In a recent survey of supply chain professionals, almost 30% of respondents reported that their companies currently block access to social sites. However, 45% of survey respondents agreed that “social networks will make supply chain processes more efficient, responsive and cost effective” in the coming five years. Also, 30% optimistically responded that “social networks will transform supply chain processes for the better, in ways we cannot currently imagine.”

In the French’s – Loblaws case, Twitter’s role proved particularly pivotal. As we’ve seen in the past, Twitter can provide companies with timely insights, enabling them to take corrective action sooner and thus prevent (or minimize the impact of) supply chain disruption.

Organization: French's Ketchup
Industry: Food Production
Name of Organization Contact: Tandy Thomas

Authored by: Jennifer Deschenes

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


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Goodyear Sheena. “Loblaws’ French’s Ketchup Snub Sparks Patriotic Backlash.” The Globe & Mail. (June 2017).

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