04/19/2016 02:41 EDT | Updated 04/19/2016 05:32 EDT

French's Ketchup Unofficial Website Could See Profits Donated To Leamington

Some consumers who want to put their money where their patriotism is have had a hard time finding French's ketchup — made with Canadian tomatoes — on store shelves.

Now a new not-for-profit online retailer aims to solve the problem by selling directly to consumers.

And if the retailer does turn a profit, the founder says the money will be donated to Leamington, the Ontario tomato capital that has struggled in the wake of the shutdown of a Heinz plant.

The website is the brainchild of Joel Paglione, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and Leamington native whose mother worked at the plant, and who watched friends lose jobs when Heinz shut down its tomato operations in 2014.

Paglione says even in Leamington itself, it's difficult to find French's ketchup.

“People end up lobbying companies or complaining, but I thought, why not just do e-commerce?” Paglione said.

heinz leamington

Cars drive past the Heinz plant in Leamington, Ont. on Feb. 27, 2014. Some 740 people lost their jobs when Heinz halted tomato operations at the plant. Highbury Canco now processes tomatoes there, but with about a third as much staff. (Photo: CP)

The website is selling 750-mL bottles of French’s ketchup for $3.95, a typical retail price for ketchup. Paglione says he’s buying the ketchup at retail prices and selling it at cost.

That French’s ketchup is made entirely with Canadian tomatoes became a viral fact earlier this year, with many consumers — and even politicians — seeing an opportunity to reward a made-in-Canada alternative to the long-popular Heinz ketchup brand.

In one well-publicized incident, grocery giant Loblaws removed French’s ketchup from its shelves, before quickly reversing that decision after public criticism.

Loblaws said demand for French’s ketchup was low, but an internal memo said the brand was “cannibalizing the sales of PC ketchup [Loblaws’ house brand] and has had little impact [on] Heinz ketchup.”

Paglione thinks grocery retailers may just be “pacifying everyone” by stocking the ketchup while its profile is high. He suspects grocers will start removing it from shelves again in the future.

leamington produce

A stall of peppers from Leamington is seen at the Detroit Eastern Farmers market in Detroit, Mich., Saturday, June 8, 2013. (Photo: CP)

If his website turns a profit, Paglione says he will cut a cheque to Leamington, either to support its schools or to help the city grow its tomato culture. He would like to see the money help ensure the city’s tomato festival continues, and help rehabilitate the city's tomato-shaped tourist information booth.

French’s itself is also racing to capitalize on its sudden made-in-Canada reputation. The condiment maker announced last month it plans to bottle its ketchup in Canada as well, on top of using Canadian tomatoes.

Sun-Brite Foods' Primo brand ketchup jumped into the made-in-Canada race last week as well, promoting the fact that its ketchup is already made from Canadian tomatoes and bottled in Canada.

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested Leamington had removed its tomato-shaped tourist information booth. According to Paglione, the booth remains but is in disuse and in need of repair. HuffPost Canada regrets the error.

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