When Heinz made its exit from Leamington, Ontario in 2013-14, a town that had come to depend upon and identify with the iconic ketchup brand felt as if their collective heart had been ripped out of their chest.
Back then, the plan was unclear: after a takeover of the entire H.J. Heinz Co. by an investment group led by eccentric billionaires Warren Buffet and Jorge Paulo Lemann, jobs would be ritually gutted month-by-month, wages slashed, and investments culled. Those employees that stuck around would hope to be hired on by the usurping company, but any futures there were far from guaranteed. Across the county, farmers assumed their years of service had come to and end; sadly, many of them were right on the money.
But in June of 2014, the Highbury Canco Corp. took over the old Heinz building, and they evidently weren’t satisfied with becoming caretakers of an undead operation. Highbury signed a contract with French’s and began production of a new product line. It was ketchup of course, but with a catch: those Leamington tomatoes that Heinz left behind would be front and center for French’s take on the classic condiment. Once again, a huge company was making a big investment in the local community; it just happened to be a different name on the bottle.
Canadians everywhere were quick to notice. A viral Facebook post from a construction worker in Orillia sparked an organic awareness campaign urging consumers to support local industry. Back in his hometown, stores couldn’t keep the French’s ketchup on the shelves.
For their part, French’s has already moved to capitalize on the wildfire success. They’ve tripled their tomato paste order from Highbury Canco already, and are in discussion to bring even more tomato production and manufacturing to the Leamington area with an expanded product line. Today, negotiations between farmers and purchasers on the price of tomatoes begin, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Ontario.
“We think that Leamington tomatoes are great quality,” said French’s president Elliott Penner, pledging to only use local tomatoes in their Canadian products.
Well, Elliott, the feeling is mutual.