(CNN) – When the doors at Blake Street Tavern open every day, owner Chris Fuselier looks for customers and packages of ketchup. “Absolutely,” says the Denver restaurateur. “If you had asked me 18 months ago if I had any concerns about ketchup shortages, I would have said, ‘Are you crazy?'”

(Credit: CBS)

But since then, Fuselier has gotten deeper and deeper into the crazy search for ketchup packages for its customers. “It’s gotten so bad that if I go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s,” he says, “I’ll hoard those extra packages to bring back to Blake Street.”

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He is not alone. The shortage of ketchup – especially in packages that often come with your take-away order – surfaced across the country last summer, and the conspiracy has intensified. How did it happen? It started when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put off traditional dining service in restaurants and instead suggested more pandemic-friendly options like delivery and takeaway.

Suddenly, coast to coast restaurants were packing appetizers, sides, and cold drinks for a steady group of people working from home and pulling by in their cars. These customers expected spices. Thus, these traditional restaurants came into direct competition with fast food restaurants, which had also closed their dining rooms and increased their orders for ketchup packages.

Demand and prices rose, supply fell.

Heinz, the country’s largest ketchup producer, is at the center of the problem and is taking steps to address it. A few days ago, the company announced “a 25% increase in production to a total of 12 billion ketchup packages … a year”.

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Kraft Heinz Co. Ketchup Packages

(Photo credit: Tiffany Hagler-Geard / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“At the start of the pandemic, we made strategic manufacturing investments to keep pace with the increasing demand for ketchup packages caused by accelerated delivery and take-out trends. At the same time, we accelerated future-oriented culinary and packaging innovations and other plans to expand manufacturing, ”said Steve Cornell, president of the Kraft Heinz Enhancer, Specialty and Out-of-Home Business Unit.

That’s a long way of saying that the ketchup giant doesn’t want anyone to show up empty-handed when they reach for a little taste as the pandemic wanes.

There’s even more urgency in Colorado right across from Coors Field, where Fuselier has its popular restaurant. Quite unexpectedly, the Major League Baseball all-star game hits town in July and promises to be a godsend after a tough year.

He strives to keep up with the ketchup demand by stocking up as much as possible. With a laugh he says: “I will order now. In earnest. I have 100 days. “

Posted by Tom Foreman, CNN

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