The Future of Food: How local retailers are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
KITCHENER -- As Dahvi Neelis calmly picks out a special treat for her daughter at Vincenzo’s bakery section, she recalls a starkly different grocery shopping experience at the start of the pandemic.
“I wasn’t panicked. But it was unsettling,” she says.
COVID-19 had a large affect on Canada's food industry.
“The disruption to the global food trading system has been quite profound, especially in the early stages of this pandemic,” says Jennifer Clapp, a professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo.
“While increasingly we’re likely to see these food items making their way back to supermarket shelves, there could still be restrictions on supply that could make prices higher,” adds Clapp.
The cheese section at Vincenzo’s has already been hit by pandemic pricing. Owner Carmine Caccioppoli points out they just recently re-stocked Burrata (a fresh Italian cheese) with a 25 per cent markup because of skyrocketing transportation costs and the low Canadian dollar.
“As a frontline retailer, we’re the ones who have to tell our customers prices went up,” he says. “It’s not always an easy thing to do, especially since everyone is suffering during the COVID-19.”
“We’ve become quite detached over time over where our foods are sourced,” adds Caccioppoli.
Clapp believes consumers should really consider buying local produce.
“Maybe think about buying foods from more local regions. Rather than rely on ingredients that are coming from long distances,” he says. “Because you might be quite disappointed that you might not be able to either get those kind of foods or they might be quite expensive because of that restriction.”
One local farmer with a stand at St. Jacobs Market has already seen an increase in demand.
“Yes we have. ” says Alex Klyn of Scottview Orchards. “Especially at the beginning. We’re seeing more bulk buying, people preserving more.”
However, Clapp says shopping local may be impacted in a few months.
“We have local fruits and vegetables, dairy eggs, etcetera that’s available to us now, but the supply may change come fall when the growing season is over," Clapp says.
Caccopolli acknowledges the pandemic may cause some of his shelves and bins in the produce section to once again sit empty.
“There may be some inconvenience but you know, there are a lot of areas in the world that are doing far worse than us.”
His customer, Dahvi Neelis, agrees and sees affordability becoming an issue locally as well.
“What concerns me most about food costs going up is really just in terms of people being able to buy the food that they need," Neelis says.
Clapp says the concern is valid when considering rising unemployment. She points to the World Food Program’s prediction of the number of people facing acute hunger doubling to 260 million by the end of 2020.