Event summary produced by The Globe and Mail Events team. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.
Is the COVID-19 pandemic causing a food shortage in Canada? A panel of industry experts discussed the question during a Globe and Mail webcast on April 30. Speakers covered the impacts of the pandemic on grocery stores, food producers and distributors, and consumer behaviors.
Below the recorded webcast are a few takeaways from the discussion. Click the player below to view the full event.
1) Food shortages are not the issue
Canada does not have a shortage of food but the industry is adjusting to changes in consumer demand, said Randy White, president of Sysco Canada, a global food distributor. The closure of restaurants caused many more Canadians to begin cooking at home every night, he explained, putting pressure on store inventory. The novelty of cooking is wearing off, causing a surge in takeout orders. Beyond consumer behaviors, parts of Canada - including some Indigenous and remote communities - are experiencing food supply issues, Mr. White said. Charitable supply such as food banks is also under pressure. Sysco has set up new supply lanes into communities with shortages, but the industry will need to work together to solve ongoing food challenges.
2) Food packaging has led to shortages and changes to selection
Food distributors who had been serving restaurants, universities and hotels suddenly had too much inventory on hand when these establishments closed. They began to route product to grocery retailers instead. First, suppliers had to repackage the food from large bulk quantities suitable for restaurants to consumer-friendly package sizes, said Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, an association whose members represent 70 percent of all retail sales in Canada. The repackaging caused shortages of product such as flour at a time when many more Canadians were at home baking.
3) Prices are going up
Over the past several weeks, food manufacturers have experienced increased costs related to implementing social distancing measures, staff training and the purchase of health and safety supplies, said Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. Given the increased prices and supply challenges, food inflation will likely exceed four percent this year, he added. The increases will impact Canadians’ ability to afford food.
4) New habits are here to stay
Ms. Brisebois said new consumer habits, such as eating dinner as a family and grocery shopping less often, will likely remain after the pandemic. The average amount of groceries bought in a single visit has increased and the trend is expected to remain over the longer term. Consumers are also buying more product in bulk to save money. Online ordering of groceries is significantly increasing, requiring retailers to expedite the build-out of their e-commerce networks. In the early days of social distancing, retailers were overwhelmed with a sudden spike in online demand, she noted. Many Canadians will continue to order their groceries online after the pandemic, leading to double-digit growth in food retail e-commerce by 2021.
View the full discussion above.