No need to panic on food supply issues, say grocers

By William McGinn

Loblaws in Lindsay on Jan. 21 had some bare shelves but nothing that shoppers should be alarmed about. Photo William McGinn.

Back in the early days of COVID, people who were panicking about the unknown descended on grocery stores, emptying shelves nationwide. Nearly two years later, a new set of threats to the food supply has some shoppers worried.  Recent struggles to hire employees along with distribution slowdowns mean some shoppers are noticing shelves that are empty or less stocked than usual, with some products completely unavailable.

There’s no need to panic; experts say despite the current slowdown there will still be food on store shelves. David LaMantia, owner of LaMantia’s Country Market in Lindsay, said for the time being, “If people want to approach this flexibly, they won’t have an issue. If they’re prepared to get Product B instead of Product A, they are going to have something.” As an independent retailer, he isn’t locked into a single supplier and has the ability to select alternate products.

Loblaws in Lindsay on Jan. 21 Photo: William McGinn

According to Food and Beverage Canada CEO Kathleen Sullivan, the Omicron variant increased the labour shortage at food plants from 15 to 30 per cent, causing employment shortages across the industry as everyone from farmers to drivers to stockers have had to quarantine.

“Because our food system is so tightly calibrated, any one problem can result in massive food shortages across the country,” Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, told  the Globe and Mail.

Mark Reid, owner of Reid’s Valu-mart in Lindsay, told the Advocate that locally, “a major part of the slowdown is all related to Monday’s snowstorm. Nothing went out for 48 hours and that takes a long time to recover from. As far as being out of stock due to anything else, it’s not going to be anywhere near like it was at the start of COVID.”

Julia Taylor, owner of Country Cupboard in Fenelon Falls, said that due to Monday’s snowstorm, one of her suppliers sent out an email informing her of a 24-hour delay on all deliveries. The order came 48 hours later than scheduled, but she said the incident was not cause for alarm.

“These companies were just getting caught up from the holidays,” Taylor said, “as well as dealing with staff shortages from employees being sick, but overall I am still receiving orders fairly normally — sometimes a day or two later than normal, but no major shortages of products.”

Federal Opposition politicians have blamed the slowdown on the Liberal government’s new vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers. As of Jan. 15, truck drivers entering Canada from the U.S.  have to show proof of vaccination, and unvaccinated drivers must meet pre-entry and quarantine requirements. Roughly 70 per cent of U.S. food imports arrive in Canada this way.

Lindsay residents Kyle and Trish Bryans seem to be taking things in stride.
It was Sunday (before the storm) when I last went shopping and at Loblaw’s I noticed the meat section was very bare. But it wasn’t really alarming me,” said Trish.
Kyle says he wonders about certain people who can only eat specific foods. A shortage like that might worry some people, if their usual products were missing.
For Trish, she says whatever happens in the coming weeks, “if we have to buy different brands than we’re used to for a while, we’re fine with it.”
Taylor said she doesn’t see this as a main contributor to the slowdown. “That’s not what I’m hearing from my distributors. What I am hearing is staff shortages from the virus and the weather from this last week (are the causes.) I hate to see it politicized. What that does is create more panic-buying, more than local retailers are used to, and create even further shortages.”
Reid said customers shouldn’t worry if some products are unavailable for a few days. Supply in grocery stores will be “much better by the middle of next week,” he said, adding “probably within a week or two after that, once we’re over the peak of the Omicron wave and people isolating can return to work again, we’ll look much better.”

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