Yellowknife grocery stores say sales aren’t slowing despite product shortages and the reopening of restaurants.
At Rochdi’s Your Independent Grocer in Yellowknife, owner Rochdi Mortada says online shopping increased by 300 percent over the past six months since Covid-19 first shut things down.
Meanwhile, at the Yellowknife Co-Op, general manager Justin Nelson said grocery sales are “pretty off the charts.” Using the meat department as an example, he noted recent sales were some 20 to 25 percent higher than normal.
The Co-Op, which doesn’t offer online shopping, said it had seen an uptick in foot traffic to its store.
“We track transactions each week, and so we’re up in the food store by about 1,500 transactions a week,” said Nelson, who believes boredom during the pandemic is one factor in driving people to shop more than they normally would.
“They come in here more times in a week just to buy various items for meal planning,” he said, adding baking was “a huge thing” earlier in the pandemic, as were cleaning supplies.
Gas sales, however, were lower than average over the summer months with many people working from home.
Typically, Yellowknifers go away in the summer, Nelson continued. “We didn’t see that this year – so [sales] continued to peak and stay solid through the summer months and even now, our sales are quite up.”
The Co-Op has seen an increased demand for local products, like the Copperhouse restaurant’s pre-packaged meals and produce grown at the Co-Op’s own hydroponic seacan.
However, at the Independent, demand for pre-made meals like salads and roast chickens has decreased.
“Once Covid happened, we went out and we looked for various restaurants here in town and asked them if they wanted to sell their product to our store,” Nelson said. “And we’ve had some success with that – it’s great to help other businesses here in town.”
At the uptown Independent, Mortada said the dramatic increase in online orders “really puts stress on [the online team],” who had to rapidly adapt to the shopping trend.
Mortada and his team used to be able to expect a rush of customers on weekends. When the pandemic hit, staff no longer knew when customers would come in, making scheduling difficult.
As people have headed back to work and sent children back to school, grocery shoppers’ behaviour is once again becoming more predictable – but Mortada now expects online ordering to remain a much bigger part of the business than it was.
“We’re going to change a couple of things when it comes to online and try to expand, because I think that’s going to be part of life,” he said.
“I think that number is going to keep going up when it comes to online shopping.”
Suppliers scale back
Not all stores have noticed a significant change in shopping trends. At Northern Fancy Meats, Terry Green said the store was busier when Covid-19 shut down restaurants but sales have returned to normal levels.
Green has, however, found “a few hiccups” bringing in products, as have grocery chains.
Green attributes beef shortages to production lines having fewer staff for Covid-19 safety reasons, while Mortada said brands like Coke and Pepsi are facing packaging issues due to an aluminum shortage, and specialty products from outside Canada are taking longer to come in.
Mortada said at any store in Yellowknife, you’ll see empty spaces on shelves due to supply issues – although he estimates by now 80 to 90 percent of products are back on the shelf.
Down the street at the Co-Op, Nelson said there are “probably just under 1,000 items” his staff can no longer find because manufacturers just aren’t making them.
“National suppliers have scaled back on what they’re producing,” he said, adding those suppliers are focusing their attention on high-performing products.
For example, he said, toilet paper manufacturers are now making two to three sizes of package rather than five or six. Special flavours of products, such as lime-flavoured diet cola, are out.
“There still are some issues,” he concluded, “but overall I think the industry has done a pretty good job of getting back on track.”