We've Been Using So Much Old Bay Seasoning that Production Was Having Trouble Keeping Up
Spice-maker McCormick had to cut back on some products to keep its most in-demand items on store shelves over the past year.
It's not an exaggeration to say that people can absolutely lose their minds over anything Old Bay-related. Last January, McCormick & Company, which owns the iconic Maryland-centric spice blend, released a limited-edition run of Old Bay hot sauce and its website was immediately swarmed by people who had to get their hands on a bottle right this second. Its entire sauce stock sold out in under an hour (although McCormick brought it back last summer, and it's now available in almost two-dozen predominantly east coast retailers).
That's all a lengthy way of saying that people were already nuts about Old Bay and, in the year-plus since the pandemic began, they've been stocking up on the seasoning blend even more often than usual. According to Lawrence Kurzius, McCormick's chairman and CEO, that's one product that the company has had to work to keep on supermarket shelves. "Oh my gosh, the demand for Old Bay has been extraordinary, and we've been hard-pressed to keep up with it," Kurzius told Yahoo Finance Live. "And even now, it's one of those items that we are still struggling with to keep in stock. The demand is just high for favorites like that."
Kurzius told the outlet that, like a lot of other companies, McCormick had to cut back on production of some less-popular products in order to ensure that it could meet increased demand for customer favorites. (We did a lot of cooking in our own kitchens last year, due to temporary restaurant closures and stay-at-home orders which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be great news for a spice company.)
"We hired 1,400 additional people mostly in our supply chain and we have added roughly the equivalent of an entire new factory by changing shift patterns and bringing in human resources," Kurzius said. "And so today, we are finally beyond the worst of the allocation time, and are rapidly closing in on the remaining 50 [percent] of all the items that we had on suspension. You should see that shelf position really accelerate."
Kurzius' comments echo what a Kraft Heinz exec recently said about the company's attempt to meet the extraordinary demand for Heinz ketchup—especially for the single-serve sachets that restaurants drop in to-go bags.
"We made strategic manufacturing investments at the start of the pandemic to keep up with the surge in demand for ketchup packets driven by the accelerated delivery and take-out trends," Steve Cornell, Kraft Heinz's president of enhancers, specialty, and away from home business unit, told CNN last week. (Heinz has also pledged to increase its production by 25 percent this year, to ensure that no French fries will have to go un-Heinzed.)
Back in the spice aisle, Freight Waves reports that McCormick opted to pare its number of SKUs by "a couple hundred units" during the pandemic and, although about half of the products that were temporarily suspended are again available in retailers, the company may not resume production of everything that it offered in the Before Times.
Although restaurants are beginning to reopen and increase their dining capacities, that hasn't slowed down demand for McCormick's products; Kurzius said that the company's first-quarter sales were up 35 percent compared to the same time period last year, driven largely by spices, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, and French's mustard.
And always-in-demand Old Bay, obviously.