Candy canes and music boxes stand on a holiday display in a Lowe's store Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, in Northglenn, Colo. Candy canes and other festive sweets are harder to find this year due to supply chain challenges affecting the food industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-AP/David Zalubowski

Candy cane sellers, chocolate makers hit with holiday supply chain challenges

Candy makers have been having trouble sourcing everything from sugar and cocoa to packaging supplies

Visions of sugar plums have turned into visions of snarled supply chains for some Canadian candy companies this holiday season.

Suppliers of chocolate and other festive treats say they aren’t immune from the logistics and transportation issues that have plagued large segments of the Canadian economy in 2021. Candy makers have been having trouble sourcing everything from sugar and cocoa to packaging supplies such as plastic and cardboard.

“The last six months or so, supply chain issues for the candy business have really gotten serious,” said Shaun Pilfold, owner of Ontario-based online candy store Candy Crave. “We used to get freaked out if we had 15 products out of stock, now we’re at 50 or 60 out of stock.”

The most affected items are the holiday classics, such as candy canes. Pilfold says suppliers seem to be focusing on filling orders from large retailers, meaning many smaller businesses have no candy canes at all.

“We ended up doing something we’ve never done before, which is to go to a big box store to buy some candy canes just so we had a few to put in our gift boxes,” Pilfold said.

Candy Crave also ran into trouble sourcing old-fashioned, hard Christmas candy.

“We went in November to a couple of our usual suppliers, early, and we couldn’t get any,” Pilfold said. “We ended up having to go to the U.S. and pay about 40 per cent more to get about 300 to 400 pounds of Christmas candy, which we’ve sold out of completely.”

Sweet toothed Canadians can take heart that there is no overall “shortage” of candy this holiday season, though there are certainly supply chain issues affecting the shipments and sale of certain types and varieties, said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

Everything from the flooding in B.C. — which closed highways and affected inbound product from the Port of Vancouver — to ongoing labour shortages at factories, mills and processing plants across North America is playing a role.

“Sourcing ingredients is an issue, and then that’s if you actually have anyone around to manufacture the foods you’re making,” Charlebois said. “It’s been difficult for food manufacturers to keep enough people around to do the work.”

At Master Chocolat in Calgary, owner and chocolate-maker Bernard Callebaut said his shelves are well-stocked this year, but he acknowledged it’s been a challenge to keep them that way.

“It’s been two things — the ingredient supply and the packaging supply,” Callebaut said. “Very simple things like fondant sugar, which is normally very common. It was really a challenge to get that. Ultimately, we found some by phoning around like crazy and paying too much.”

Master Chocolat sources bulk chocolate from Belgium, and Callebaut said bringing in a shipping container from Antwerp this fall cost him twice as much as it usually does.

But he said he’s thankful he ordered well in advance and received enough that he is still filling orders, three days before Christmas.

“It is challenging, but if you have a creative hat on, you can find solutions,” Callebaut said. “You might have more grey hairs by the 24th of December, but we were able to make it happen.”

—Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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