Our world runs on supply chains. The flour you bake with, the clothes you’re wearing, heck, this very information you’re receiving through the internet, passes through many countries from start to finish.
With the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic however, those supply chains have been thrust into the spotlight as more and more Canadians are becoming conscious of where the products we use come from.
There are a lot of reasons to buy Canadian products, from supporting the local economy to slowing environmental impacts. But during the pandemic, there may be even more reason to than ever due to two main factors: the potential for compromised supply chains, and the goal of supporting our local and national economies through this rough time.
So what even are supply chains? Simply put, the supply chain is the sequence of people, processes and systems that help distribute a commodity.
Take a bag of flour. The wheat has to be grown, harvested, processed, packaged — in bags that also must be produced somewhere, somehow — shipped to wholesalers and then to retailers and then sold to customers. And that’s one of the simple ones.
Our world is growing ever-connected. But what happens when a virus invades those connections?
We saw that first-hand Friday, when U.S. President Donald Trump made waves when he called on PPE supplier 3M to stop shipping N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. That’s a huge deal for Canada, because we don’t actually produce N95s ourselves here — we entirely rely on outside trade.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford condemned Trump’s order.
“The health and well-being of our frontline workers depend on these essential medical items and now more than ever our countries need to work together to combat COVID-19,” Ford said Friday.
WATCH: Canada pressing case for continued U.S. exports of medical gear. Story continues below.
But that’s a supply chain working on the national level to combat the health crisis. How do these supply chains affect you as a consumer?
To start, food is a big part of it. Food security experts are warning the global pandemic could lead to supply shortages, higher prices and a growing nutrition gap between rich and poor.
Even if you’re buying Canadian produce, it was likely picked by one of the 60,000 temporary foreign workers that come to work here every year, or pollinated by honeybee shipped in from the U.S. And because of the pandemic, those links are more tenuous than ever.
While Canada’s borders remain open to essential trade, things are changing every day. Systems that move food around the globe are being strained by the virus, from ships unable to change their crews to grounded airplanes cutting down on freight capacity.
“Simply put, the supply chain is the sequence of people, processes and systems that help distribute a commodity.”
More than 30 ports worldwide are either restricting entry to vessels or prohibiting crew changes, including in Australia, Vietnam, India, Greece, Portugal, Chile and Argentina.
That means fewer items are moving between countries. There could be a day in the not-so-distant future where imports of certain items slow or temporarily cease.
And panic buying hasn’t helped. Have you gone to the grocery store recently for a certain item only to discover it’s no where to be found? While early days of the pandemic saw paper products like toilet paper flying off the shelves, demand has now shifted to pantry staples like flour, sugar and eggs. This sudden spike in demand means suppliers are less able to keep up with supply and predict what consumers need.
So, you can avoid a lot of the stress of wondering if your item will be there by getting in the habit of shopping local.
But buying Canadian also has the benefit of stimulating the economy and supporting businesses currently experiencing a once-in-a-generation economic downturn. So if you’re thinking of buying Canadian to limit the supply chains you have to interact with in your day-to-day life, and boost the economy, here are some tips.
Know where you’re shopping online from — and where that item is coming from
Everyone’s ordering online right now, which is great in terms of practising social distancing. When you order something online, you don’t have to go into a store and interact with people.
But just because something arrives conveniently at your door, doesn’t mean it got there easily. Websites like Amazon and other distributors often pass stock through various warehouses between the supplier and the customer.
Besides possibly subjecting yourself and your purchases to a broken supply chain link, this journey can also take a whole lot longer during the pandemic. As early as March 2 Amazon was warning of delivery delays related to the huge spike in online purchasing.
Many Canadian businesses forced to shutter are still running online operations during the pandemic. Before you buy something, check to see if there’s a Canadian-sourced option available.
Eat foods that come from Canada
In addition to supporting domestic business and helping bump that economy, in a situation where supply chains are compromised, foods produced in Canada are more likely to be in stock and continue to be in stock.
For example, most yogurt is made with Canadian milk and the country only imports $3 million of yogurt annually. For dairy products in general, you can check for the blue cow label that the Dairy Farmers of Canada stamps on products.
Good ol’ pantry staple Kraft Dinner is also a homegrown creation, and the company has said they plan to shift priority in their Quebec plant to ensure a steady supply for quarantined Canadians in the weeks and months to come.
If you’re going to order in, support your local restaurants. Local restaurants are more likely to source their ingredients locally, often running partnerships with suppliers and growers. Adam Vetterol, the chef/owner of Ottawa’s North & Navy told HuffPost earlier this month he’s long partnered with a local mushroom supplier.
WATCH: Coronavirus' effects on supply chains. Story continues below.
When his restaurant was forced to close due to the pandemic, he said he was looking at ways to do takeout menu items specifically using the local suppliers he relied on, in order to help support them too.
Because of social distancing guidelines, most farmer’s and community markets are closed or limited in their service. But check if your area has delivery from local produce suppliers, or if there is a way to do curbside pickup.
Check out the “local” section of your supermarket, too — it is often full of surprises, and you’ll likely be supporting local business owners going through a tough time right now.
And if you’re going to drink, support your local craft breweries or distilleries. Many are running delivery services or partnering with restaurants to do alcohol delivery with meals.
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