Supply chain strain and staffing shortages lead to empty shelves

Food supply has been an ongoing issue in many Alberta groceries stores, but it has become more of a challenge since the federal government implemented that all truck drivers would need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination before crossing the border as of Jan. 15, 2022.

Brenda Martin, a Buyer for Federated Co-operatives Limited, explains in all her thirty years working in the produce industry she has never seen anything like this before; especially where all levels within the industry, as well as the government, are requiring individuals to be vaccinated in order to get food on the shelves for consumers.

“It’s not going to be pretty, and I just keep telling people that are close to me that you might want to stock up on a few fruits and vegetables in your freezer and some canned goods; don’t be a hoarder, but don’t be afraid to have a few on hand, “said Martin.

She says food supply worries were already an issue even before the federal government implemented that truck drivers be vaccinated because there has been such a backlog at the shipping ports due to how fast the Omicron variant has spread, which has created staffing issues.

“That’s the start of where the chaos begins because the freights are stuck on boats and then we can’t get enough trucks or people who know how to run the equipment to unload the boats fast enough to have the product out in time to run their ripening cycles before they go onto store shelves, “said Martin.

She said the best example is that they’ve never had any issues in the past with shortages on bananas, and that’s an item that they don’t generally short because it’s considered such a primary item. But due to the backlog of the boats in Los Angeles, CA, in the United States, they are now in a state where they are shorting bananas for the first time in her career.

She says that it’s exploded into even more problems now, there were limited people due to sickness, labour, and all the other things due to COVID that her company has never seen before, but this mandate now of truckers not being able to cross the border has impacted Federated Co-operatives Limited to a point where 20 percent of their workforce truckers will now not be able to cross the border due to the federal government’s vaccination mandates.

“There’s been a lot of information about empty shelves and a lot of the problem too is the packaging that comes from other countries. We had an instance through the summer where we couldn’t get cartons of watermelons out of Washington because they didn’t have the cardboard or cartons because they were stuck on a boat somewhere, “said Martin.

She also explained that there have been numerous problems at various times where they’ve delisted items like salad dressing because they can’t get the packaging materials for these products.

Randy Hrabi, a Press Operator at Hood Packaging, expects the public to also see shortages on items such as sugar and flour due to how fast the Omicron variant has spread, creating staffing issues in his line of work and supply shortages due to truck drivers not being able to come over the border.

“People don’t think about the full picture and what goes on at all levels to get food on the shelves for the consumer, “said Hrabi.

He said as a press operator for thirty years who prints the labels onto the bags that the sugar, flour, etc. go into, he has never advised anyone that there would be a shortage in these goods.

“Only certain individuals are fully trained and qualified to run the press machines that create the packaging for the sugar and flour bags, if all those individuals get sick, there is no one qualified to create the packaging that makes it possible for the basic essential goods to be put on shelves. That’s not the only issue we are running into, even when all the qualified individuals are here to work, we don’t have the supplies to create the bags because trucks can’t get over the border to deliver the paper, ink, varnish, etc. for the presses, “said Hrabi.

Going forward, Hrabi wants to see more relaxed rules regarding the vaccine from the government, more manpower in his trade, which would mean bringing more awareness towards his trade and into niche careers like his own, so they can have more people enter the industry to train.

A GoFundMe campaign called the “Freedom Convoy 2022” has been organized by Tamara Lich, who is a Board Member of the Maverick Party, and B.J Dichter, a former candidate of the Conservative Party of Canada, to help raise money for truck driver’s cost of fuel, food, and lodging. The campaign has raised $5.6 million in donations so far. On the GoFundMe website, it says “Money raised will be dispersed to our truckers to aid with the cost of the journey.”

About Tamra Nelson 2 Articles
As a photojournalism major in the journalism program at SAIT, Tamra Nelson is working as a photographer for The Press in 2022-23.