‘It’s a nightmare’: For Ontario food wholesalers, fresh produce faces delays of weeks, raising concerns about quality and higher prices

As global supply chains sag under the weight of increased demand and widespread worker shortages, Ontario food wholesalers face product shipment delays that threaten to hamper the shelf life of their products and increase costs to the consumer.

At Ontario Food Terminal, Canada’s largest wholesale fruit and distribution center, the Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA) says that fresh produce now takes about three to four weeks to arrive from abroad, marking a 7-10 day delay compared to COVID Delivery Times.

Products such as grapes, bananas, berries and citrus, imported from Asia and the Global South, are trapped in shipping containers at ports along North America’s east coast entry points as truckers wait in line. to transport them to Toronto.

Larry Davidson, CEO of North American Produce Buyers, says shipping delays have caused the company to increase expenses and redirect imports.

“From an overseas shipping perspective, it’s a nightmare,” Davidson told the Star.

Larry Davidson, CEO of North American Produce Buyers, says delays in shipments have caused the company to increase expenses and redirect imports.

The Toronto-based company typically imports its foreign products to shipping ports in Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before crossing into Canada by truck. However, between port congestion, ocean travel time and clearance measures from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Davidson says his product is now arriving 10 days later than normal.

While the delays have already led to increased food prices and business expenses, some experts warn that the supply chain issue could also increase risks in food safety and quality assurance measures.

“With these kinds of backlogs, you could end up selling products that are closer to expiration or, in the worst case, they could contain bacteria that force merchants to recall the product,” said Sylvain Charlebois, professor at Dalhousie University. which investigates food distribution and politics. .

For Ontario food wholesalers, November marks the beginning of an annual transition from fresh fruit and local produce to foreign imports from countries with warmer climates.

While Canadian farmlands are covered in frost, companies like North American Produce Buyers turn to exporters in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East for berries, citrus fruits and vegetables.

Supply problems are not uncharted territory for the produce industry, which navigates weather conditions and the ability to ship to import produce into Canada. But OPMA says rising costs and delays along the supply chain this year have challenged the economic viability of companies in the sector.

For produce companies, the cost of container shipping has tripled in the past year, with estimates rising from $ 3,000 per container to between $ 15,000 and $ 18,000, according to OPMA.

President Michelle Broom says she has seen container costs hit $ 25,000.

“We expect those costs to continue to trend up through the end of the year as driver shortages and holiday spikes challenge supply chains,” Broom told the Star.

To spread the risk, North American Producer Buyers has arranged for its imports to arrive at various North American ports, including Miami, Florida and Galveston, Texas.

It has also increased transportation costs by increasing truckers’ wages and paying a premium for transporting agricultural products from the ports to the food terminal.

Steve Bamford, president of Bamford Produce, says that the company’s rising labor costs have created the “biggest struggle” for the company, as Canada faces an employee shortage in the industry.

The trucking industry was short of 18,000 drivers during the second quarter of 2021, according to Trucking HR Canada, leading companies that depend on transported products to attract new workers with higher wages.

The high costs associated with the supply chain crisis appear to have trickled down to consumers. A recent report from the Dalhousie University Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory, written by Charlebois, pegged food inflation at five percent over the past year.

Charlebois attributed the increase to a variety of pressure points, including labor costs, climate change and logistics.

In a joint statement issued last week, North American produce industry companies issued a stark warning to governments to “work urgently” to prevent food insecurity and shortages.

“Without a multilateral commitment to finding solutions, these problems will have lasting impacts to the detriment of all North American economies. These include: bankruptcies, legal disputes, industry consolidation, inflation, inaccessible food supplies and many more, ”the statement read.

“Time is against us and the need to address these challenges now cannot be underestimated.”


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