'A domino effect': Asian grocery stores particularly hard hit by Port of Vancouver woes – Financial Post
Asian markets across much of Western Canada heavily depend on imported produce and specialty goods coming through Vancouver
Two trucks left Vancouver for Calgary on Thursday carrying $109,000 of ginger from China and dragon fruit from Vietnam. The cargo had been in limbo on ships for nearly two weeks, sitting in port on the B.C. coast.
That the two truckloads are now on the road at all is a victory for Calgary-based produce firm Thomas Fresh Inc., which imports Asian fruits and vegetables and sells them to retailers across Western Canada. The company hasn’t been able to get a single container out of Vancouver since floods and mudslides destroyed provincial highways and rail lines earlier this month.
“If the locusts come, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Thad Kaniewski, Thomas Fresh’s chief operating officer, said this week as B.C. braced for another wave of storms.
One of the knock-on effects of the crisis in B.C. has been empty grocery shelves, not just in hard-hit communities inside the province but in Asian markets across much of Western Canada, which heavily depend on imported produce and specialty goods coming through Vancouver.
If the locusts come, I wouldn’t be surprised
One family-run Asian grocer in Edmonton, 99 Supermarket Ltd., had to limit produce purchases to two per customer earlier this week as supplies dwindled.
“There was some panic buying,” general manager Jordan Tran said on Wednesday. “The news spread really fast…. It became a domino effect. I couldn’t get shipments out of Vancouver.”
Tran said it has been difficult to get imported products into the store in recent months, due to pandemic-related backlogs at the country’s main western port. The floods made everything worse.
“I would say 20 to 30 per cent of our shelves are empty,” he said, adding that certain types of soy sauce, fish sauce, baking supplies and noodles, among other pantry staples, are out of stock. “Over the weekend, our produce shelves were completely empty.”
His order of salted duck eggs has been on a ship for two months and was still waiting to be unloaded in Vancouver as of Thursday. The eggs have a shelf life of six months, he said, so he’ll have much less time to sell them, whenever they arrive.
Tran was expecting a truck of produce and imported dry goods to arrive from Vancouver on Saturday now that enough highway between B.C. and Alberta has reopened, albeit just one lane in some stretches.
A truck carrying produce from Vancouver was also expected at the Great Asian Market in Regina, part of a chain of four stores across Saskatchewan. Tony Lin, the store manager, said some of his fresh produce stock has run low or sold out, including Daikon and winter melon.
“Last week our produce almost sold out so I ordered quite a lot from Toronto,” he said.
It will affect everybody. But it’s the little guys who will get screwed
B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Rob Fleming told reporters on Friday that roughly 4,000 commercial trucks had made use of the repaired Highway 3 corridor that runs through the southern end of the province to Alberta. But that morning, the route was temporarily shut down again due to a “serious accident.”
To help the battered supply chain this week, Air Canada added 586 tonnes of cargo capacity in and out of Vancouver — a 45 per cent increase. Canadian National Railway Co. is expected to resume service “shortly,” Fleming said, and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. has been running trains between Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C. since Tuesday, effectively restoring a rail link between the crucial port and the rest of Canada. CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow said the railway is trying to clear a backlog of cargo shipments and is planning a move “toward full operations over the coming days.”
But that progress could be undone as the province stares down more “atmospheric river” weather events, the first of which is expected to hit this weekend, according to the province’s River Forecast Centre. The worst of the storms are predicted to land early next week, with provincial authorities warning of the heavy rain and high winds risked more landslides and power outages.
“Crews are continuing to repair and upgrade corridors and conditions are far from normal,” Fleming said at a Friday news conference.
Poor conditions and road closures have already made trips through B.C. longer for truckers, with detours, delays and roundabout routes — including through the U.S. The extra labour and fuel costs are pushing trucking companies to start raising rates.
For example, Calgary-based East West Express Inc. has raised its rates by 30 per cent, according to co-owner Lance De Waal.
“We’ve got far more hours and far more miles,” he said. “I cannot absorb that.”
East West, which specializes in hauling food, has been overwhelmed this week with requests to pickup all types of imports from the coast. “I get calls all day long from people I’ve never heard of, looking to move not just a little bit of freight but truckloads of freight,” he said. “There’s just no trucks to haul the backlog.”
The backlog is reverberating across the supply chain, he said, but some of the hardest hit are the independent Asian grocers — as far as Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“It is insanity,” De Waal said. “It will affect everybody. But it’s the little guys who will get screwed.”
• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: jakeedmiston
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