McDonald’s announcement late last week that the company would no longer serve Heinz ketchup as condiment to its burgers and iconic French fries came as a surprise to consumers long used to expecting to find the world’s number one selling ketchup alongside the world’s top fast food. After all, the McDonald-Heinz duo was a relationship that rivaled many solid marriages, lasting well over forty years. The split is akin to, and as surprising as, the divorce of the couple you assumed might be married forever.


But the truth is, McDonald’s has been quietly but stealthily replacing Heinz in most of its US stores with another unnamed ketchup. In most McDonald’s restaurants, with the exception of those in the Pittsburgh, PA and Minneapolis, MN markets, plastic packets of ketchup at the bottom of the takeout bags are most often simply labeled “McDonald’s Fancy Ketchup.” However, even those Pittsburgh and Minneapolis locations, as well as the overseas restaurants that have continued to stock Heinz ketchup, will likely see a ketchup change in their futures as well. Why?


Reasons have not been made clear by either food service giant. Business analysts are making some guesses however, and most suggestions seem to hone in on a recent takeover of Heinz by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, a huge sale that led to the change in leadership at Heinz.


The company sale prompted a shake up in the Heinz CEO’s office, with Bernardo Hees – also a key leader at McDonald’s archrival, Burger King – taking over the reins. Perhaps the higher-ups at McDonald’s sensed the installation of Hees signaled a shift in Heinz’s fast food loyalties to its chief competitor. Or perhaps McDonald’s simply desired to beat Heinz to the break up rather than allowing Hees to be the one to pull the plug on the years’ long union. Whatever the case, the decision appears motivated by McDonald’s uncertainty about its ability to continue to do business with a changed board at Heinz.


According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, this is not the first time McDonald’s saw fit to stop serving up Heinz ketchup to consumers. That paper reports that the ketchup giant once met about 90 percent of all McDonald’s condiment needs, but that a tomato shortage in the early 1970s strained Heinz’s ability to produce and bottle their product. To keep feeding a population hungry for burgers and fries, McDonald’s decided to stray outside of that once-solid relationship to meet its ketchup needs.