With the controversial cross-border vaccine mandates implemented by the federal government, supply chain issues have been thrust into the spotlight again.
However, Michelle Wasylyshen, national spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada, stresses there is no concern about food availability.
“There is food on grocery store shelves, and there’s no threat to the overall design of the food supply system,” she says.
While Wasylyshen recognizes that some regions or grocers are reporting shortages, she says these shortages are temporary and are caused by a host of problems and not just one.
“We’ve seen major global supply chain issues for the past couple of years and labour shortages across the country,” she says.
More than one challenge
Additionally, Wasylyshen notes that during the winter months, weather can be a challenge as well due to the reliance on just-in-time delivery for retail grocery products.
“When we have that kind of winter weather, it can lead to product shortages and delays simply because trucks can’t always travel during bad weather,” she says.
When asked about the impact of the new cross-border vaccine mandates, Wasylyshen says it is a situation they’re monitoring closely.
“On the whole, it’s something that we are looking at, but we are not expecting it to be a major issue.”
At the same time, Wasylyshen knows the situation is amplified at the moment due to the number of trucks coming across the border with produce.
“It’s an important season for produce right now,” she says. “The average weekly truck quantity, as of the US coming into Canada, is higher than it would be in the summer and fall when we are more focused on our local growing season.”
Local grocers feeling the squeeze
Ali Soufin, manager of local grocer Freestone Produce in the city’s northeast, says his store has been experiencing shortages for several months.
“In the produce section, it even started back when BC had the mudslides,” he says. “It started then and now it’s out of control.”
To fill Freestone’s shelves and keep the business running, Soufin resorted to the only options he had.
“What we’re doing is paying the truckers and the trucking companies that are working more money,” Soufin says.
Which, in turn, leads to inflation in prices
Soufin says that since they are a family-owned business, they have a bit of wiggle room to adjust their business model — but they have taken a hit.
“We are getting by right now mainly focusing on putting the lowest price we possibly could, keeping our customers happy and focusing on not laying off staff,” he explains.
“So, we take a hit as a family and show less profit because we don’t have any stakeholders to answer to.”
Soufin notes that before the pandemic and bad weather in BC caused challenges, the store actually had an overstock due to capacity limits.
However, Soufin says the vaccine mandate has added to the shortage of produce, especially in the winter when a lot of it comes across the border from the US.
“The vaccine mandates for truckers at the border didn’t help,” he says. “It’s harder to get things especially in the dead of winter and the things that Canada grows, we’re all out of that.”
No need to panic
Despite these issues, Soufin feels it should only be a few months before produce stocks get back to normal.
“I’m not sure how long this will go on for. I’m guessing at least till the summer until Canada is our own fruits and vegetables supplier and then we can have more selection,” he adds.
While Wasylyshen understands retailers are facing a range of challenges currently and are growing more concerned, she doesn’t expect there to be any major issues moving forward.
“We don’t know what the impact is going to be, but we are not expecting it to be drastic,” Wasylyshen says.
“It’s complex. We’re seeing a delay of goods and not a shortage.”
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