Sugar shortages felt in Winnipeg, as strike in western Canada continues

The effects of labour actions in western Canada are being felt by local business owners in Winnipeg, who remain concerned about the fate of their sugar supply.

As the strike at the Rogers Sugar refinery in Vancouver, B.C., enters its seventh week, supply of sugar to businesses across surrounding regions remains limited. For Munther Zeid, owner of Food Fare in Winnipeg, the effects meant he couldn’t stock up on sugar after the weekend.

As the export of refined sugar to businesses across the country takes a hit, Zeid said he was fortunate enough to have an order at another store fulfilled.

“We ordered the yellow, the golden, the brown, all those, and they didn’t even show up yesterday. They weren’t even on the invoice. They were taken right off,” said Zeid. “Last week, we had zero (supply) for most of the week.”

Zeid added that he would be looking for other sources to replenish his stock if the strike doesn’t end soon. But he isn’t concerned yet. He also noted that there aren’t any plans to limit the number of sugar bags that customers can buy.

Betsy Hiebert, president of Cocoabeans Gluten-Free bakeshop, painted a more concerning picture. According to her, the business does not have enough supplies to get them through their busiest season of the year. She said the concern over supply began almost a week and a half ago, when she was told by her supplier that a sugar shortage could affect the province.

Brown, granulated, and icing sugars aren’t easy to replace, she said.

“We just need that sugar to keep coming through,” said Hiebert. She also said that buying sugar is becoming difficult due to the limits placed on how many bags can be ordered.

“They’re telling us that we can only order one or two bags at a time.”

But even with the concerns, she said it’s not something you can control. Going to work every day, she said, now feels like playing a video game while dodging all the hurdles that come her way.

“We were really looking forward to Christmas being a good season for us,” said Hiebert.

The director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, Sylvain Charlebois, anticipates bakeries will need to get even more creative in finding substitutes, as drought across the globe continues to drive up the price of sugar. The impact of the strike, he added, could drive those prices up even further.

“We don’t see our sugar prices (dropping) anytime soon. That’s going to impact candies for the holidays, Valentine’s Day, (and) Easter as well,” said Charlebois.

He added that while Canadians should look at alternatives to sugar, the alternatives available are themselves expensive.

“Sugar is going to cost you,” said Charlebois.

— with files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel.

Click to play video: Western Canada faces bitter sugar shortage with B.C. refinery strike ahead of holiday baking season

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