Customers rattled by empty grocery store shelves across N.B.

It’s a sight that’s greeted grocery shoppers across the province more than eleven in recent weeks: empty shelves. Empty produces bins. Barewalls.

Rattled customers have been posting photos on social media, wondering what’s going on and hearing back to the pandemic’s toilet-paper hoarding era.

“It’s shocking to see all the chains collectively with empty shelves,” said Saint John shopper Dominique Leger.

Leger posted a photo of empty produce shelves at a Sobeys store in Saint John on Sunday, which many responded to with similar observations and questions: what’s causing the shortages? What’s being done about them? And when will they end?

Major retailers say the answer is right outside your door — in fact you may be shoveling it right now.

In the past 10 days, the Maritime provinces have been pummeled by four snowstorms, most recently on Monday by a messy mix of freezing rain, wind and snow. That’s led to multiple delivery trucks being taken off the road for a few days, retailers explained.

“The back-to-back winter storms in the Atlantic region have caused some disruption on major routes,” Sobeys Inc. spokesperson Sarah Dawson said Monday, highlighting the impact on the Cobequid Pass and the Confederation Bridge.

“Storms in other regions like Ontario can have an effect on supply, but … this will not be long term,” Dawson said in an email. “If you notice an item that is low in stock, know it won’t be for long.”

A spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Limited, which owns the Atlantic Superstore chain of supermarkets, agreed, noting the issues are largely due to the weather and aren’t affecting all stores.

“I know that with the weather, some of our stores are facing some issues, which are typical of this time of year,” director of corporate affairs Mark Boudreau said in an email.

“Inclement weather often presents challenges, but overall, our stores in New Brunswick are managing inventory and supply quite effectively.”

Like Dawson, Boudreau said the shortages will not be a long-term issue.

Less of an issue for independent grocers, so far

Several people posting on social media pointed out that they hadn’t encountered any shortages at smaller, independent outlets. Leger, in Saint John, said she hopes that she encourages shoppers to support their local, independently owned grocery stores.

One independent grocer said Monday the produce shelves were full and supply had not been an issue.

“Strains on the supply are common in produce,” said Darren Lavigne, owner of Pete’s Frootique in the Saint John City Market.

“Sometimes panic-buying is the culprit, in this case a big storm and new [government] restrictions,” Lavigne said, noting he’s “a little concerned” about the impact of a new vaccine mandate for truckers entering Canada.

As of Saturday, all Canadian truck drivers returning from the US must have at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, otherwise they would have to quarantine for two weeks, the federal government said Thursday.

That’s not something either Sobeys or Loblaw representatives cited as a factor in the current shortages, however, and it hasn’t affected Pete’s Frootique yet, either.

“So far, so good,” Lavigne said. “I haven’t had any major issues to this point.”

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