Canada faces alcohol shortages ahead of the holidays due to supply chain issues, a situation that is causing some provincial liquor authorities to urge customers to shop early – or be ready to try a new libation.
Supply chain experts say the shortage of inventory is due to issues with production, transportation, and demand.
However, because much of the residue affects imported alcohol, Canadian wineries, distilleries, and breweries are encouraging people to buy local produce.
“Our pantries are full,” said Carolyn Hurst, chairwoman of Ontario Craft Wineries and co-owner of Westcott Vineyards. “Every Ontario winery has a lot of products and we ship every day. We have no problem getting our products on the shelves.”
The situation is different with imported alcohol.
While some types of liquor are fully stocked, other types are running low or out of stock.
Part of the problem is production. Unfavorable weather events such as fires and droughts have adversely affected the harvest in some wine-growing areas.
Labor shortages have also limited the production of alcohol, especially varieties that are more reliant on manual labor.
Production was also hampered by bottlenecks in packaging materials such as bottles, screw caps and cans.
“Developing consumer demand, the availability of raw materials such as glass and aluminum, and difficult growing conditions in some regions of the world such as France and New Zealand have impacted production plans for some suppliers,” said Nick Nanos, chief supply chain officer of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario said in a recent statement.
“We encourage our customers to shop for the best selection of gifts and Christmas favorites earlier this year, be flexible with their choices and take the opportunity to try something new.”
Meanwhile, transportation problems also affect the availability of alcohol.
A global shortage of containers, congestion in ports, and empty crossings – when a cargo ship skips or cancels a port of call – have all contributed to inventory backlogs.
“The supply ran out due to production problems and then there was a tremendous shortage of transportation infrastructure,” said Saibal Ray, a supply chain management expert and professor at McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management.
“Transporting wine is even more problematic because it requires temperature-controlled containers.”
Even after imported liquor arrived in Canada, British Columbia’s flooding has restricted road transport along major trade routes, with Australian and New Zealand wines particularly hard hit.
Meanwhile, a pandemic-induced surge in demand has only exacerbated the industry’s transportation and manufacturing challenges.
Research published last month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open found that alcohol sales skyrocketed during the pandemic.
The study found that alcohol sales in Canada exceeded pre-pandemic estimates by 5.5 percent, or $ 1.86 billion, over 16 months of the pandemic.
An example of an unexpected surge in demand was champagne sales in New Brunswick.
The province saw an unexpected boom in champagne and sparkling wine sales during the second half of the pandemic, New Brunswick Liquor Corp. spokeswoman Marie-Andree Bolduc said.
“Unfortunately, this unprecedented surge in demand has put us in a position where we are likely to dispense some of our most popular champagnes in the run-up to Christmas,” she said in an email.
French brands Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon will be hard to come by in the province, Bolduc said.
The surge in pandemic-era alcohol sales coupled with the usual increase in sales over the holidays could result in some products being missing from the shelves.
In Nova Scotia, liquor store shelves are already running out of champagne, scotches, US-made whiskey, and some wines from New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina.
“We have … signs on the shelves with shortages telling customers that the product is temporarily out of stock due to a delivery shortage,” said Beverley Ware, a spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. “We recommend alternatives that you can buy.”
While some products may not be available at all, she said, in other cases it might be so easy to recommend a different pack size – a can versus a bottle, or a 12-pack instead of a six-pack.
Saskatchewan is also having problems with its alcohol supply chain, but it continues to have a high availability rate of 96 percent for the top 500 products sold in the province, said David Morris, a spokesman for the Saskatchewan Liquor & Gaming Authority.
“The main impact was products imported through the ports in Vancouver,” he said in an email, noting that wines from Australia, New Zealand and South American countries were hardest hit.
“Although some products are currently affected, customers shopping in both private and public retail stores across the province will continue to have access to a variety of alcoholic beverages during the busy Christmas season.”
– With files from Keith Doucette.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 11, 2021.