Don’t hoard, don’t panic: any food shortage is very temporary, says U of G expert

Finding the product you’re looking for could be as simple as going to another store

You might have noticed an inconsistent shortage of some items in grocery stores recently, where store A is missing one product and store B is missing another.

There’s no reason to panic, says Simon Somogyi, a University of Guelph professor who studies food business and value chain management. He said the shortages of items are a result of many factors at play that include weather and trucks.

Finding the product you’re looking for could be as simple as going to another store, he said.

“We’re not going to go to a period of mass shortages of a lot of products. It’s going to be specific products over a time frame of a number of weeks,” said Somogyi, director of the Longo’s Food Retail Laboratory and Arrell Chair in the business of food at the U of G.

“We are just compounded by this perfect storm of bad winter weather and Omicron absenteeism in stores and food processing as well. So there isn’t a huge amount that we can do in the short term. I think as consumers we just have to be smart about what we buy.”

He said the recent cold weather and snowstorms slowed the supply of food to local stores.

“We have to import a lot of our fruits and vegetables from the USA and Mexico and they come by our trucks. And many of those trucks have been slowed down by winter storms that we’ve had over can encounter over the last few weeks and also a big issue of absenteeism across the food supply chain, particularly in food processing, and retailing.

Somogyi said this means products are not necessarily getting onto shelves as quickly as they should because there are fewer people driving trucks that bring the products to the shelves.

He also added that while vaccine mandates for truck drivers play a factor, they’re not the only factor at play.

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Canadians should have no reason to fear that food shortages will result from a minority of truck drivers refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate across the Canada-US border.

He said the large grocery store chains and retailers assured him that they have plenty of goods despite some labor shortages and supply chain congestion caused by the pandemic.

He also added that there has been no “measurable impact” on the number of trucks crossing the border since the vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 15.

However, the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that nearly 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — have not been fully vaccinated against COVID.

Somogyi said there’s not much that can be done at the moment.

“First of all, don’t hoard or don’t panic. Buy products that we’re getting back on shelves. Only buy what you need particularly if it’s fresh products like meats or fruits and vegetables,” said Somogyi.

“Be smart. It may mean having to go to another store to find a specific product that she needs. Be smart with your money and I think people should be okay.”

Recently many have taken to social media to post photos of empty shelves in grocery stores. Somogyi said don’t believe everything you see on social media.

“Rest assured that these are short-term because food processes and food retailers are doing all their best to get food on the shelves. It’s good for their businesses,” said Somogyi.

“They’re used to dealing with unexpected events. They’re troubleshooters. They’re working hard at the moment to fix this problem,” said Somogyi.

With files from Canadian Press

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