Western Canada’s Sugar Shortage

With Christmas approaching, ‘tis the season to be baking, and this is a peak season for sugar use in commercial bakeries and in consumers’ kitchens. But western Canada is experiencing a major shortage of granulated sugar as a strike at the Rogers Sugar refinery in Vancouver drags into its third month.

The Canadian market is served by just three sugar refineries. Eastern Canadians are experiencing no sugar-supply shortages. For Redpath Sugar in Toronto – Canada’s largest refinery, and for the Rogers Sugar plant in Montreal, it’s business as usual. But workers at Roger’s Sugar plant in Vancouver have been on strike since September. The plant is operating at severely reduced capacity. Constance Popp owns a chocolate confectionary bakery shop in Vancouver.

“It was probably about 3 weeks ago, we started getting shorted from our wholesaler. It’s when we started going to Costco early in the morning and trying to check out what they had there, and stocking up there. I just worry, as our demand for baked goods increases, that we won’t be able to get what we need, and we will potentially be missing out on those sales.”

While the Rogers plant in Montreal is sending what it can to Vancouver to help supply the western market, those supplies are limited as this is a peak demand season for sugar across the country.

The union representing the Vancouver sugar plant, Public and Private Workers of Canada, says its workers are at odds with Rogers Sugar over issues including wages, benefits, and the company’s wanting to increase its refinery operation to three shifts on an ongoing basis, year-round. Adrian Soldera is president of Public and Private Workers of Canada, Local Branch 8, in Vancouver.

“It’s not an ideal situation for the union, and its not an ideal situation for the company, especially around Christmas time. The price for a single bag of sugar has been raised significantly for these customers so they’re hurting. Everyone’s hurting, because everyone has families, everyone wants to make money.”

A mediator hopes to bring the two parties together after more than a month away from the bargaining table. But even if the dispute is resolved, industry watchers say sugar shortages will continue as production capacity comes back on-line. Edgar Semler operates a bakery in Winnipeg and he says a 50 pound bag of white sugar has doubled over the past month. But, regardless of the current price of sugar, Semler thinks his supply, and for the home baker, the shortage will be in place right through Christmas.

“Our number one ingredient is flour, I think number two is sugar. I think, for the home baker, we’re going to be in trouble right through Christmas. So, our price was 26 dollars for 20 Kilo’s and that price, from some of our distributors, has jumped over 60 dollars.”