Seeing empty grocery store shelves? Omicron is to blame, says food supply expert


If you’ve been seeing empty shelves at the grocery store, you’re not alone.

The shortages aren’t still a consequence of B.C.’s flooding from November, the highways and railways which were destroyed have since been repaired, and the backlogs addressed.

Instead, it’s something much bigger.

“I have one word for you: it’s Omicron,” said Sylvain Charlebois, the director of Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

The highly contagious COVID-19 variant is forcing more to be off work, resulting in fewer people to move food around the country.

“Lots of our suppliers are having issues with making the products or being able to pick up the orders at the warehouses because there are plenty of people not going to work because of COVID,” said Robert Roenicke, a produce manager at Urban Grocer in Fairfield.

And experts say sporadic empty shelves are something they’re seeing across the country.

“I’ll be honest I’m a little bit concerned because there are a lot of people who are absent from work, whether it’s in logistics, processing, or retail…15-25 per cent of employees aren’t reporting into work right now,” said Charlebois.

And as global economies try to restart, Charlebois expects this pattern will continue.

“I think things will be messy for a good portion of 2022,” said Charlebois.

And there’s another threat looming: the planned vaccination mandate for truckers starting January 15th.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters say the mandate risks hitting Canada’s fragile supply chains with another shockwave and have all asked the federal government to either eliminate or postpone the mandate.

The Liberal government has not indicated it intends to alter or delay the mandate.

As for shoppers, there’s no need to be concerned

“You’ll probably always find what you need,” said Charlebois. “You may not find what you want, but you will find what you need.”

But we might need to consider adjusting the way we shop — like buying less, more frequently.

“You should buy a little at a time because the product ending up on shelves aren’t as fresh as they used to because it’s taking longer to get food on shelves,” said Charlebois. “And you shouldn’t be surprised to see grocers empowering consumers to become food rescuers.”

Deals on expiring milk, meats and produce are expected to increase with the short shelf life, to prevent waste.

Meanwhile, grocers are pleading for people not to panic buy.

“We all just need to be conscious of the fact that your neighbours, your friends, all need that meat and those vegetables too,” said Robert Roenicke, Urban Grocer. “And sticking it in the freezer for 6 months isn’t going to do anybody any good.”

Roenicke is also reminding people that shopping at smaller grocery stores may offer you the most options, as smaller businesses typically have more suppliers than big box stores.

With files from CBC.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

Recent Stories

Send us your news tips and videos!