COVID-19 vaccine mandates may have briefly boosted the price of goods, but keeping shelves stocked isn’t a major issue, grocery stores say, despite photos circulating of empty aisles.
The information comes as a convoy of truckers heads to Ottawa in protest of vaccine mandates, something they say could worsen supply chain issues.
“Overall, supply chain pressure has started to ease,” said Eric La Fleche, CEO of Metro Inc., during the company’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday.
The issue of unvaccinated truckers, he added, “will have mostly an inflationary impact on the cost of merchandise coming in from the U.S., produce especially.”
But, for the most part, La Fleche said, “we’re getting the merchandise.”
Metro isn’t the only grocery store reporting a minimal impact from the mandate. The industry group representing big-box grocery stores in Canada said while some members are having trouble bringing product to Canada from the U.S., others aren’t having any serious issues at all.
“We’re hearing from some of our members that they’re not experiencing any major impacts from the mandatory trucking vaccination,” said Michelle Wasylyshen, spokesperson for the Retail Council of Canada.
Their comments come as a convoy of truckers rolls towards Ottawa to make their opposition to vaccination mandates heard.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government announced in November that all Canadian truckers looking to cross the border from the United States would need to be vaccinated in order to avoid a 14-day quarantine. The United States instituted its own ban on unvaccinated truck drivers on Saturday, too.
But when the Canadian policy came into effect on Jan. 15, many truckers and politicians came out against the mandate. Politicians across Canada have tweeted images of empty grocery store shelves, some pointing directly to the vaccination mandate for truckers that came into effect on Jan. 15 as the culprit behind the missing products.
“Thank you Truckers! Trudeau is attacking personal liberty and threatening everyone’s ability to get groceries because of his overreach on vaccine mandates,” said former Conservative leader and current MP Andrew Scheer in a tweet.
“He is the biggest threat to freedom in Canada.”
Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative Party’s finance critic, echoed Scheer’s sentiment — decrying what he referred to as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “vaccine vendetta” as “emptying grocery shelves and ballooning food prices.”
But Wasylyshen warned that any attempt to isolate a single cause for supply chain snarls would be misguided.
“We have so many different issues that retailers are grappling with, whether it’s labour supply chain, weather is a big one, and so it’s really hard to pinpoint that specific issue and say ‘that’s the main cause of all of our problems,'” she said.
The Conservative Party did not answer Global News’ emailed questions about the tweets.
For Walmart Canada, there are “a number of reasons” why supply chain disruptions have continued into the new year, according to spokesperson Adam Grachnik.
He pointed to higher consumer demand, shortages of containers and vessels to move goods around the world, weather, COVID-19 lockdowns and labour shortages “throughout the supply chain” as contributing factors.
But, like Metro Inc., Walmart says that things are looking up.
“We are experiencing some isolated and temporary impacts to our supply chain,” he said.
“We do expect availability of products to improve in the weeks ahead.”
The cost of food could still continue to rise in the future, though, warned Dalhousie University food distribution professor Sylvain Charlebois.
He said that freight costs have “doubled” in the last 10 days — which, at some point, “will catch up to consumers.”
Still, he said he’s not expecting any “major shortages.”
“I think what consumers need to take away from this is that Canadians should have no concern about food availability. There is food on the grocery store shelves,” Charlebois said.
“There is no threat to the overall robustness of the food supply system. I wouldn’t want anybody to lead us to believe that it was other than that.”
As for politicians tweeting out photographs of empty shelves, Charlebois said this seems like people “weaponizing pictures…showing empty shelves.”
“And that’s unfortunate, especially right now. We don’t want people to panic or feel that that food security is an issue right now in Canada,” he said.
“There’ll be plenty of food, but to expect perfection as a consumer would be unreasonable at this time, given what’s going on with our with our supply chain.”
Meanwhile, as the convoy barrels towards Canada’s capital city, the government reiterated that vaccination and adherence to public health measures is key to keeping Canadians safe.
“As the pandemic continues, it remains critical that essential goods reach Canadians as quickly as possible,” read the joint statement from three cabinet ministers and the head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA).
“To reach this goal, and to bolster Canada’s economic recovery and long-term competitiveness, it’s important to tackle two major challenges facing industry – supply chain constraints and labour shortages.”
The government pledged to continue holding a “shared dialogue” with the CTA — and others in the industry — on how to tackle these challenges going forward.
“By working together, we are confident that we can find solutions that will help Canadians and industry alike,” they said.