Local grocery store operators are picking their words carefully in addressing public concerns about what they say are increasingly empty shelves.
The scarcity of some grocery-related supplies has been the talk of the town in recent weeks – even months.
Social media are full of discussion as well about store shelves being empty, with everything from milk to eggs to cat litter sold out. Many people are puzzled and concerned about what is happening.
Some blame the COVID-19 outbreak for inspiring another round of hoarding. Others blame the weather, particularly in hard-hit British Columbia, for the supply woes.
Some are saying the federal government’s Jan. 15 introduction of a vaccine mandate for truckers who cross the border are making things worse. Others suggest drivers are scarce during the Omicron outbreak of the virus.
The Star decided to talk to the people who should know – the managers and owners of Whitehorse grocery stores.
Only Sam Jurovich, the owner of the Bigway store in the Granger Mall, was prepared to be talkative on the issue.
So far, he said, Bigway hasn’t had much of a challenge with the supply chain, nor with staff shortages due to COVID-19.
“At this point, it’s not critical, but the shortages are expanding,” Jurovich said.
He said he’s expecting the challenges could worsen, but since Bigway is not a big-box chain store like his competition downtown, he has more options open to him and a “quicker reaction time”.
Jurovich said he employs about 25 people on his staff. He hasn’t faced much in the way of difficulties there, particularly among his permanent, long-term staff.
“They’ve been great,” he said. “We have had some fluctuations with our younger staff, but nothing serious.”
Many of his permanent staff have been with him for more than 20 years, he said, and are intensely loyal.
Jurovich said he keeps his ear tuned to the grocery grapevine in the city. He shared some of his thoughts as to what some of the other stores are experiencing.
He said as far as he can tell, the Real Canadian Superstore has been hit particularly hard. He said, though, he doesn’t think it’s supply issues that are the problem.
Jurovich said what he is hearing is that staffing issues are part of the problem. Deliveries are coming through on a close-to-regular basis, he suggested, but there aren’t enough staff to re-stock the shelves in a timely manner.
The manager of the Real Canadian Superstore refused to talk to the Star about the issue. He directed a reporter to the Loblaws head office instead.
The manager of the Save-on Store did not return a call from the Star.
Mark Wykes, the owner of Wykes Independent, kept his comments very general and was reluctant to be quoted at length.
Wykes said the shortages – which have affected the Independent Grocer somewhat, are due to a convergence of factors.
The trucking industry is suffering staff shortages, he suggested, which, when combined with some of the severe weather conditions over the last few months, have complicated deliveries.
On Thursday morning, he had a reminder of how impactful the weather could be. Wykes said a delivery truck was on its side a few hours out of Whitehorse.
“That’s certainly going to delay things,” he pointed out.
He said that could get worse due to the federal government’s vaccine mandate that only fully-vaccinated drivers can cross the border.
However, he also suggested the impact might not be so great.
“Why wouldn’t they just send their vaccinated drivers across?” he asked.
Wykes suggested manufacturing shortages are more of a problem than most people think as well.
The other factor is less controllable, Wykes suggested.
He’s suspicious that some people are hoarding supplies locally, compounding the shortages.
The COVID-19 outbreak is part of that, he said, but it’s also basic customer psychology that if shoppers have an idea there’s a supply shortage, they start to stock up.
Wykes said he’s asking his customers to take only what they need and leave some for other people for the moment.