Food buying panic hits Canadian stores

With food riots spreading from Haiti to Thailand and retail giants such as Wal-Mart implementing rice rationing in the United States because of shrinking supplies, analysts say Canadians will soon be paying a lot more at the grocery store.

Already, panic buying has hit some Canadian stores.

Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers Association of Canada said he was getting calls in British Columbia that store shelves were being emptied of rice by panicked buyers. “I was in one of the national chains and there was one packet of rice left on the shelf.”
“It’s a human trait to hoard, but there is only so much food to hoard,” he said. “The world crisis is obviously going to have a ripple effect into Canada.”

Eating habits will be forced to change, says Cran, and its likely in the near future consumers will no longer have the option of fresh pineapples and oranges in the winter.
“My advice is to go speak to your granny and get a canning recipe before she leaves this world.”
Maple Leaf Foods Inc., one of Canada’s largest food processors, reported a loss on Thursday due to soaring costs for grain used in its bakeries and hog barns.
“These are stunningly, stunningly challenging and unique times,” Chief Executive Michael McCain told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on Thursday.
“The world is embroiled with absorbing the implications of the simple truth that food will be considerably more expensive, well into the future,” he said.
Rice prices jumped 5% in Thailand as prices surged to $1,000 a tonne on Thursday. The country has been hit by an increased demand from developing countries and poor crop yields.
World rice stocks are the lowest in 20 years and riots have broken out in Africa and Haiti. Adding to the problem is that India, Vietnam and Thailand have restricted exports.
The shortage has already begun to have an impact on North America.
Sam’s Club, the wholesale unit of Wal-Mart announced Wednesday it was capping sales of nine kilogram bags of rice at four bags per customer per visit to prevent hoarding. The curb affects “specialty rice” including jasmine, basmati and long grain rice.
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Canada said there are no plans to cap sales in Canada.
“We do not have restrictions on rice at any of our Canadian stores,” said Karin Campbell on Thursday. She would not comment on whether there had been a run on rice at any of their Canadian outlets.
Canada hasn’t seen as large an increase in food prices as other areas in the world but changing patterns in food use are having an impact on prices.
For example, corn is being used for ethanol production and putting pressure on the food industry, said David Wilkes, a spokesperson for The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors.
“Ten years ago we didn’t have to compete with that,” he said. “It’s a perfect storm of a variety of factors. We’re even seeing prices go up for fresh fruit and vegetables that have to be trucked in.”
Although Wilkes couldn’t say how much Canadians can expect to see prices jump on grain staples such as rice and flour, he said the prices will begin to steadily climb. “I do believe that these changes are with us to stay.”
Wilkes said Canada’s major grocery chains did not anticipate restrictions either. “We do not believe it is necessary to follow restrictions.”
But across the country, Canadian suppliers of foreign foods were feeling the pinch Thursday.
The wholesale price of specialty rice has doubled or almost doubled in the last five months because of shortages overseas, said Kanti Shah, co-owner of Shah Trading Co. in Montreal.
“Right now, the scenario is “Where can I get my rice?’,” said Shah, a Kenyan-born Indian immigrant whose firm supplies Loblaws, Wal-Mart, Costco and other chains.
“It’s definitely a crisis. I don’t think it will get so bad that rice won’t be available here, but the price will be high. You know, the Asian crowd in North America are major consumers of rice — breakfast, lunch and dinner — so they’ve been stocking up.”
And in Toronto, Pascal Ribreau, owner of Celestin Bakery said wholesale prices have forced him to raise prices by 15%.
A manager at Hua Sheng supermarket in Toronto’s Chinatown said customers recently have been buying larger bags of rice while the store has seen an increase in rice sales.
Three weeks ago the supermarket raised the price of several brands of rice $1 to $5 depending on size of the bag.
With files from Jordana Huber, Canwest News Service

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