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Canada’s provincial problems mirror the states

Produce growers and suppliers across all of Canada’s provinces faced their fair share of challenges last year, from food safety concerns to unpredictable weather.

“There never seems to be a shortage of excitement with Canadian weather,” said Roy Hinchey, CEO of Thomas Fresh Inc. in Calgary, AB. He says a combination of difficult weather conditions in Western Canada directly impacted the growth and harvest of crops for the 2017-18 season.

Among the more serious and unexpected was the toll wildfires took on crops. “The British Columbia wildfires left much of Western and Central Canada covered in a layer of smoke,” Hinchey said, which in turn stunted growth for some crops.

“Slowed growth was paired with a sudden hit of cold in September before harvest. Many farmers were unable to remove their crops before this frost hit,” he continues.

To overcome these issues, Hinchey said Thomas Fresh works as closely as possible with growers, to understand each situation as it arises, while maintain communication with retail partners.

Canadian produce suppliers are also working under the pressure of fierce competition.

“The competitive landscape continues to strengthen in Western Canada,” said Brian Lewis, produce director for Federated Co-Operatives Limited in Calgary. “Additional square footage has blurred the markets.”

Hinchey agrees, and says retailers are adding to the challenge as well.

“In 2018, retail stores applied increasing pressure on wholesalers to lower our prices and compete for business where margins are small and profits turn to losses,” he said. “There is only so low a price can be before the practice has to be reevaluated.”

Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) in Ottawa, ON, points out that Canada’s produce businesses aren’t just competing with each other, but also with companies around the world.

“Our sector operates within a highly competitive global marketplace,” he said, “growing, storing, selling, transporting, and merchandising highly perishable fresh goods.”

This puts even more pressure on suppliers and “presents unique challenges to ensure produce is consistent in production volume and quality,” Lemaire said.