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How unease over manufacturing jobs made Canadians go crazy over ketchup

There’s a good reason French’s — produced in Leamington, Ont., with local tomatoes — suddenly became so important to the Canadian collective.

Sue deFreitas, manager of Toronto's Lakeview Restaurant, recently swapped out her diner’s regular ketchup brand for French’s.

Liz Beddall / Metro

Sue deFreitas, manager of Toronto's Lakeview Restaurant, recently swapped out her diner’s regular ketchup brand for French’s.

Call it the Canadian ketchup revolution.

Canucks, riled up with a nationalistic fervor, rose up against the country’s biggest supermarket chain this week over its decision to stop stocking French’s ketchup. Thousands turned their social media pitchforks on Loblaws, and Ontario MPP Mike Colle wrote the company asking for the decision to be reversed.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the grocer had bowed to public pressure, pledging to return French’s to its rightful spot.

It was all a little crazy. But, there’s a good reason French’s — produced in Leamington, Ont., with local tomatoes — suddenly became so important to the Canadian collective. Moving well beyond the lunch counter, it came to represent Canadian jobs at a time when people are feeling a deep unease about the future of manufacturing, one expert said.

“We’re used to thinking about a brand in simple attributes — maybe it tastes good and it doesn’t cost a lot — but it turns out they can also have important cultural significance, about jobs and economic conditions,” explained Markus Giesler, a professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“But that connection needs to be made by someone. In this case, it was that Brian Fernandez guy.”

Fernandez, who lives in Orillia, assigned meaning when he posted on Facebook that he’d bought French’s and liked how the company reopened the ketchup processing plant in Leamington, saving 740 jobs that were lost when Heinz pulled out two years ago.

His post has been shared more than 130,000 times since last month.

Fernandez didn’t even know where Leamington was when this all started. But learning how Heinz’s decision put plant employees, farmers and truck drivers in a financial bind and how many people got their jobs back when French’s came in, struck a chord with him.

“These are blue collar jobs, manufacturing jobs, where you go and do the job without a pat on the back or getting promoted to CEO — and that’s just like myself,” Fernandez told Metro.

A Toronto diner's ketchup switch

A Toronto diner proved a trailblazer when it switched to French’s ketchup a few months ago.

News of the company’s decision to use Leamington tomatoes was one of the reasons Lakeview Restaurant made the switch.

“It’s cost-effective, we like the taste and we liked their good news story,” said Sue deFreitas, manager of the Dundas West eatery.

When she heard this week that Loblaws had stopped stocking the product, she was disturbed by what seemed to her like “backroom bigwigs shaking hands” on a deal to keep the ketchup off grocery shelves and take choice away from customers.

For Lakeview, the ketchup shakeup went through without any negative feedback from customers. All in all, deFreitas said, people aren’t that picky.

“If you give them a good version they’ll be happy.”

Is it really that good? Metro taste test

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