The shelves are full, but prices are rising at Ottawa grocery stores

“We obviously do not grow anything locally now, except for a few green houses. So you are dependent on the trucks. If there is a shortage, you pay more money.”

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Higher prices, not empty shelves, is how the supply chain disruption affects grocery stores in Ottawa.

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“COVID itself has been a problem for the supply chain,” said Daniel Guerra, Purchasing Manager for Mercato Zacconi Fresh Foods on Preston Street.

“COVID has been so hard on transportation. And on top of that, you have this vaccination problem now. It boils over.”

A convoy of hauliers billing themselves as the “Freedom Convoy” is on its way to Ottawa this weekend protesting against the federal government’s order for mandatory vaccinations for all hauliers crossing the border into Canada. The United States has its own mandatory vaccination policy for truck drivers driving into that country.

Conservatives have seized the case, tweeted pictures of empty shelves in grocery stores and accused the Trudeau Liberal government of food inflation and shortages.

“Trudeau’s vaccine vendetta is emptying grocery shelves and raising food prices,” conservative Carleton MP Pierre Poilievre tweeted last week. “He thinks it is #JustinFlation But what about when people get hungry? ”

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But an informal survey of grocery stores in Ottawa, including Greely Foodland in Poilievre’s drive home of Carleton, showed none of the empty shelves that have been circulated in photos posted on social media. Meat sections seemed to be filled up, and so did sections and dry aisles.

Guerra believes the haulier convoy is more about general frustration over COVID-19 than with the vaccination mandate. Food prices are rising, he said, but it has been a problem since the pandemic started.

“There is less responsibility,” Guerra said. “Before, we would call suppliers and haulage companies and say, ‘I need my garlic!’ and they would try to please us. Now they will say, ‘Listen, the market is what it is. You get it when you get it.’ It started happening a year ago. It was a “take it or leave it” mentality. “

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The biggest effect is on fresh ingredients and specialty products that Mercato Zacconi imports from Europe. But while consumers will pay more, they will not see empty shelves, he said.

“I do not think customers are affected so much by it. There is always another way you can get a product. ”

Dave Barstead, owner of the two Produce Depot locations in Ottawa, says price increases are always cyclical.

“Truck taxes are extreme right now, higher than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s basic economy – supply and demand. There are fewer trucks driving to places like California.

“We obviously do not grow anything locally now, except for a few green houses. So you are dependent on the trucks. If there is a shortage, you pay more money. And I do not blame them either. If there are fewer trucks, you have to pay more money. And they will sell it to the one who is willing to pay them the most for the load. “

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Bad weather also plays a role, he said.

“It happens all the time. We hear that the weather has been really hard for citrus crops, and that means we are going to pay more for oranges and lemons. Right now, lime is going through the roof.”

Marilyn Dib, Operations Manager for Cedars & Co. in Old Ottawa South, says supply chain problems have forced her to plan her purchases better. Products from Italy and the UK have been particularly difficult to obtain.

“It’s coming late, but it’s still coming in. I have ETAs on some products that may not come until February, so I know if I want it, I’ll have to order in January.”

The pandemic has meant that fewer company employees enter the store in person, so Dib orders most things online. If a product is not available in Toronto, she will find a source in Montreal.

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“We have so many suppliers now in Canada,” she said. “I think we need to embrace the fact that – all the way from BC to the Maritimes – we can rely on our own Canadian food distributors. Are we really going to branch out to the US? For a good deal of time, we did “Then we came to a realization, especially during the pandemic, why do we not order from within? It is safe to order from within. It is safe to order from province to province.”

Dib estimates that food costs have risen between five and 15 percent during the pandemic, but she is doing her best to offset the cost to the consumer.

“If onions come in at $ 3.49, I would say ‘let’s sell them for $ 1.69.’ People need something to add to those onions, so we’ll raise the price of tomatoes by a few cents. get their onions, ”she said.

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“Yes, I’m in the industry to make money, but we’re also in a pandemic, and we have to take stock of the money we make and say, ‘OK, let’s not put it that high.’ . “

Both Guerra and Barstead are preparing for the supply problem to get worse.

“Absolutely, I expect it to get a lot worse before it gets better,” Guerra said.

Barstead says consumers will have to be smart if they hope to save money.

“They can see what a good deal it is now. Maybe you have a salad with cabbage instead of fresh greens.

“If you want a hot house tomato or a bunch tomato for your salad, you’ll pay more. But if you’re willing to buy a grape tomato or a tomato, they’s at a very good price now and once they’re cut up, you can not really taste the difference.

“But if you absolutely want broccoli or cauliflower, well, you’ll have to pay more.”

Followers of
Supporters of the “freedom convoy” of truckers gathered on a bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway east of Calgary on Monday. Truck drivers are driving across Canada to Ottawa to protest the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers. Gavin Young / Postmedia Gavin Young / Postmedia

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