At my local up the road I finally had a daub of French’s ketchup on some fresh cut fries. It was fine. I’m not gaga for ketchup, having been raised on HP Sauce. HP was always on our table and ended up on darn near everything except cereal. Whenever I see that distinct square glass bottle, I’m transported back to the old dining room, staring at a slab of my mother’s steak pie, which was actually just stewing beef and sausage from the slow cooker with a side of puff pastry. A tiny scoop of boiled veg was added for colour and all of it got slathered in The Sauce. Pure magic. Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool. I’d pay nearly anything to revisit that scene, if only for an hour. I miss my mum and her crock-pot masterpiece on days like Easter Sunday.
Heinz bought HP in 2005 and immediately tinkered with the classic recipe, causing universal outrage among we British. In 2007, they closed the plant that had made it for over 100 years in Birmingham and moved production to the Netherlands, leaving 125 people unemployed. In boycott, I tested out a sauce called Daddies for my Saturday butty but it turns out Daddies is a Heinz product as well. Once that was empty I got some A1 Steak Sauce to try, which is a Kraft product. Heinz bought them last year for 23 billion USD. If you check the label you’ll see that Warren Buffet’s fingerprints are on almost every sauce bottle in the world.
With every condemned factory, busted union and giddy shareholder, Buffet’s 66 billion in net worth is guaranteed to eventually roll over to a cool 67,000,000,000 post haste. For the king of hyper-capitalism, nothing less than total condiment domination will suffice. He who controls the sauce controls the bucks. Players like Trump are small potatoes comparatively.
The Sauce Baron’s merger and acquisition technique is consistent and predictable. Copious apologies will be issued for the closure of Plant X when production is moved to “excess capacity” at non-union Plant Y, that is located nowhere near the place they are shutting down. You don’t want any of those overpaid slouches from the old operation showing up and contaminating the new one.
Here’s the statement that was released by an operations VP when the HP sauce plant in Birmingham was boarded up:
“We deeply regret having to consider closing the HP sauces manufacturing site at Aston. However, this proposal is made in the context that there is excess capacity at the Elst manufacturing site and sustaining the Aston site, which normally operates only three days per week, is not viable.”
In other instances, possessing spare capacity is a liability and will be used as the rationale to close a factory or three. This was the case in Leamington, Ontario a few years later in 2013, when Heinz axed 740 jobs, along with 200 in Florence, South Carolina and 410 in Pocatello, Indiana:
“Heinz said it came to its decision ‘after an extensive review of our company’s North American supply chain footprint, capabilities, and capacity utilization.’”
And presumably, from that review…
“… the company cited unused production capacity at its Leamington facility as a reason why it was part of Thursday’s announcement.”
So spare capacity can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what the share price is that day and who is writing the press release. Why would you keep the three smaller plants you’ve acquired along with their pesky unions when you’ve got a turn key operation elsewhere, ready to fire off mass quantities of shelf stable, glucose-fructose laden bottles of muck that will readily ship to and from anywhere you like?
In a nod to Buffet’s style, Maple Leaf Foods moved it’s historic Schneider’s division to some purpose built spare capacity in Hamilton, rather than rebuilding anew in Kitchener. Saskatoon picked up some of the production as well. A fresh start is always several bucks an hour cheaper in labour and comes with no legacy costs to maintain. If you’re of my generation, the mere mention of Schneider meat will bring up an image of his TV likeness sawing away on a ham and wrapping it gently in brown paper just for you. That kindly old entrepreneur would never lay anybody off, would he? What will you be serving on the side this Easter? French’s Mustard? Or did you get some classy Kraft Heinz Grey Poupon to jazz it up Buffet style?
It’s encouraging to see kind-hearted people on a mission to buy French’s ketchup in an attempt to keep Ontario farmers and factory workers in Ohio employed. Those billionaire Loblaw boys had a lot of nerve messing with your red sauce! If you’re so inclined you can send a message of thanks and support to Slough, England, where French’s parent company Reckitt Benckiser are located. They also make Lysol and Strepsils, though I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head where those factories are located and how much capacity is in each. I’m certain that most of the employees across all operations keep their resumes on hand because if Warren Buffet comes calling, there will be casualties. It’s unknown as of yet what the preferred ketchup will be at the Leamington Food Bank this Easter.