Sparse shelves in Edmonton caused by more than Omicron, expert says

Winter weather, the fifth wave of COVID-19 and a vaccine mandate on some truckers have created a logistical storm resulting in grocers trying to stock bare shelves.

Vaccine mandate for truckers at Canada-U.S. border expected to strain supply chain

An employee at Blush Lane Organic Market on Whyte Avenue stocks shelves, as the store has adjusted the way it orders shipments, often days behind schedule. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Supply shortages and delays during the COVID-19 pandemic may be inevitable for most stores but Blush Lane Organic Market in Edmonton has found a way to keep shelves reasonably stocked. 

The shop on Whyte Avenue, in Old Strathcona, gets most of its product from Spud.ca, its sister company and supplier based in British Columbia. Some shipments have been up to 10 days late because of rough weather and staff shortages at warehouses, said Scott Bladon, Blush Lane's director of retail operations.

Now, the shop orders differently: more products, less often.

"We're predicting longer turnarounds for our orders. So if we were typically waiting three days on an order, let's give it six days now," Bladon told CBC News.

Blush Lane, he added, will switch to Alberta-based vendors when circumstances call for it, such as the B.C. floods that shut down highways last November and December.

The local market is among other grocers in Edmonton and other parts of Canada trying to navigate a logistical storm resulting in bare shelves, said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agrifood Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

Empty grocery store shelves caused by more than COVID

1 year ago
Duration 1:53
The vaccine mandate for truckers at the Canada-U.S. border, staffing and the weather are expected to strain the supply chain.

The fifth wave, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, is forcing thousands more people to isolate due to COVID-19 infection, or because they were a close contact.

Winter weather ties up shipments every year, Charlebois noted.

The latest snag in deliveries, Charlebois said, may be due to the vaccination mandate for truckers crossing the Canada-U.S. border. In effect since Jan. 15, experts predict the mandate will take thousands of drivers out of the mix.

"The vaccine mandate is happening at the worst time," he said. "We could have waited a few weeks or perhaps a couple of months to get over this Omicron wrath we're dealing with." 

When you factor in wintertime, the mandate was implemented at a poor time because snowstorms will delay shipments, he said.

The meat department at a grocery store in Old Strathcona is one of several sections showing supply issues this week. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

The current supply issue differs from the early days of the pandemic when people panic-bought items, he explained.

"This time it's a supply-side issue for sure and that makes me a little bit nervous."

Even when COVID-19 cases start to subside, the public should expect supply struggles to last for several months. So Charlebois urges common sense and moderate shopping. 

"Panic buying or hoarding will be the worst thing to do right now — the worst," he said.

"You'll always find things you need — you may not find what you want but you always will find things you need in the grocery store." 

CBC News requested comment on the recent supply issues from Overwaitea Foods and Loblaw Companies but did not receive a response. Sobey's declined to comment. 

On Tuesday, the Canadian Press reported that some grocery chains are facing temporary closures because of supply issues.


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