A strike at a sugar refinery thousands of miles away is leaving a bitter taste in business owners’ mouths here in Winnipeg.
About 138 workers at the Rogers Sugar refinery in Vancouver walked off the job on Sept. 28.
According to the union, they’re at odds with Rogers over wages, benefits and the company’s proposal to increase refinery operations to 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The company says the plant continues to operate at a reduced level, and Rogers is using its other facilities to support its customers in Western Canada.
In an email to The Canadian Press, Rogers Sugar chief financial officer JS Couillard said the strike has resulted in localized supply impacts in Western Canada, particularly for brown sugar and some packaged white sugar.
Food Fare owner Munther Zeid has felt the impact. Over the past few weeks, his grocery store’s usual white sugar order was sometimes partially filled, or not at all.
“Supply is very limited. Last week, we had no sugar at all in the white sugar,” he told CTV News Winnipeg on Monday.
Food Fare owner and manager Munther Zeid is shown in a Nov. 20, 2023 image at his Portage Avenue store.
One of his stores received an order, so Zeid had to redistribute some of the sugary supply to his other locations, just to fill shelves, which didn’t last long.
Even specialty sugars, like demerara and yellow, are running low.
“We ordered also to fill, and we got zero of that, so will it come? Not sure.”
Hildegard’s Bakery menu is full of sweet treats and Rogers brown sugar is a key ingredient – something co-owner David Newsom has had a harder time getting from his distributors as of late.
“There’s no way to do a butter tart or a cinnamon roll that isn’t on the more decadent side, and we’ve built the recipes around brown sugar,” he said.
Brown sugar is a key ingredient in Hildegard’s Bakery menu items like cinnamon rolls and butter tarts. Owner David Newsom says the ingredient has been harder to source after the strike broke out. (Source: Hildegard’s Bakery/Instagram)
He anticipates brown sugar could be even harder to come by in the Christmas season if the strike isn’t resolved.
Through substitutions, he hopes to keep offering the menu items, even if his sugar supply runs low.
Still, it’s not ideal.
“This isn’t a great season to be figuring out testing or substitutions but if we have to, we’ll figure out a way to get those products out,” he said.
“It’s just more work and more time.”
WEATHER IMPACTING SUGAR PRODUCTION, PRICES
Adding to the sugar squeeze, the sweet ingredient is trading at its highest price since 2011 right now, mainly due to lower global supplies.
Unusually dry conditions tied to El Nino damaged harvests in India and Thailand, which are both key exporters of sugar.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations is predicting a two per cent decline in production this year.
Back in Winnipeg, Zeid says he was notified about a 10 per cent price increase on sugar a few weeks ago. Price aside, he is hoping the labour dispute will be resolved by the time the busy holiday baking season comes around.
In the meantime, he’s working to source other brands to help feed a potential sugar rush.
“There are other companies in Canada. In the east, there might be a couple more that have the opportunity to show their product off.”
– With files from CTV’s Alexandra Holyk and The Canadian Press
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