British Columbia

Salt shortage forces stores to look south for supply

The Lower Mainland is in for more snow, according to forecasters. But whether the region can count on more road salt in local stores to help deal with the wintry weather is entirely anyone's guess.

'I've never seen us sell salt like this before,' says local retailer

Ice-melting salt comes from manufacturers with mines in Canada and in the United States, for distribution to suppliers in B.C. (Lisa Johnson/CBC)

The Lower Mainland is in for more snow, according to forecasters, but whether the region can count on more road salt in local stores to help deal with the wintry weather is entirely anyone's guess. 

"It's quite hard to source locally so we've been pulling stuff in from the States," said Lyle Perry, director of operations at Kerrisdale Lumber. 

"We've been pulling from Ace Hardware and even small American shops we haven't called in 30 years." 

The nearly 90-year-old Vancouver hardware store usually sells two or three pallets of road salt per winter, according to Perry. 

So far this year, it has sold at least 60 pallets or 3,600 50-pound bags of salt.

Perry said before the holidays, Kerrisdale Lumber employees were just loading up bulk salt at a local construction supplier and bagging it themselves in burlap sacks.

"So, you can almost double it, in terms of volume of salt, of what we sold in bags."

Suppliers swamped

Road salt in stores comes from various ice melt manufacturing companies like Kissner Salt in Cambridge, Ont. 

"We've seen an overall 20 per cent increase in sales to date, so call it end of December," said Kristie Kimmett, marketing manager for The Kissner Group. 

"But, specifically to B.C., to the South Coast, we've seen a 50 per cent increase over last year in shipments.

"Names that we ordinarily would only see a couple of times in a regular season I'm seeing pop over and over again like Port Coquitlam, Victoria, Richmond, Delta."

Kissner is shipping fairly steadily from its mines in Canada and the United States to western distributors who supply local stores. 

Coquitlam landscaper Dan Curtis removes a thick layer of ice from under his truck. (CBC)

"A lot of our regular suppliers are saying we can get it to you in February," said Perry.

Meanwhile it took less than two hours for Kerrisdale to sell out of its most recent shipment of salt — eight pallets — on Tuesday afternoon. 

Alternatives to salt 

If you can't get road salt, said Perry, there are a lot of different ice melt products on the market. 

While many of them are also in short supply, he said, lava grip is readily available. 

"It's a crushed volcanic pumice that doesn't melt the ice but it provides instant traction even on the slickest of sidewalks or driveways where you could run or pivot on it right away," said Perry. 

"That's actually what we've put in our yard to keep guys and customers safe around the store." 

Lafarge is one of the Lower Mainland's major salt distributors. 

A company representative said in an email, "we are expecting a large shipment mid-month which should hold for the rest of the winter barring further unexpected weather."

"It's a real challenge for retailers and quite frustrating as a consumer," said Perry.