Canada faces pre-holiday alcohol shortages due to supply chain issues, a situation that has prompted some provincial liquor boards to urge customers to shop early – or prepare to try a new libation.

Supply chain experts say the inventory crisis stems from production, transportation and demand issues.

Yet with much of the backlog impacting imported alcohol, Canadian wineries, distilleries and breweries are encouraging people to buy local.

“Our pantries are full,” said Carolyn Hurst, president of Ontario Craft Wineries and co-owner of Westcott Vineyards. “Every winery in Ontario has a lot of product and we ship every day. We have no problem getting our products to store shelves. “

It’s a different story for imported alcohol.

While some types of alcohol are fully stocked, other varieties are almost sold out or out of stock.

Part of the problem is production. Adverse weather events such as fires and droughts have impacted crops in some wine regions.

Labor shortages have also reduced alcohol production, especially varieties that rely more on manual labor.

Production has also been crippled by shortages of packaging materials such as bottles, screw caps and cans.

“Changing consumer demand, the availability of raw materials such as glass and aluminum and difficult growing conditions in parts of the world such as France and New Zealand have had an impact on the timing of production from certain suppliers, “Nick Nanos, director of supply chain for Liquor Control Commission of Ontario, said in a recent statement.

“We encourage customers to buy early in the year for the best selection of holiday gifts and favorites, to be flexible in choice and to take the opportunity to try something new. “

Meanwhile, transportation issues are also impacting the availability of alcoholic beverages.

A global container shortage, port congestion and dry runs – when a cargo ship jumps or cancels a port of call – have all contributed to inventory backlogs.

“The supply dropped due to production issues, then there was a huge shortage of transportation infrastructure,” said Saibal Ray, supply chain management expert and professor at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management of McGill University.

“Wine shipments are even more problematic because they require temperature-controlled containers.”

Even once the imported alcohol arrived in Canada, flooding in British Columbia hampered road transport along major trade routes, with Australian and New Zealand wines particularly affected.

Meanwhile, an increase in demand fueled by a pandemic has only worsened the industry’s transportation and production problems.

Research published last month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open indicated that alcohol sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

The study found that alcohol sales in Canada exceeded pre-pandemic estimates over a 16-month pandemic period by 5.5% or $ 1.86 billion.

Sales of champagne in New Brunswick are an example of an unexpected increase in demand.

The province saw an unexpected boom in champagne and sparkling wine sales during the second half of the pandemic, said New Brunswick Liquor Corp. spokeswoman Marie-Andrée Bolduc.

“This unprecedented increase in demand has unfortunately left us in a situation where we will likely run out of some of our most popular champagnes as Christmas approaches,” she said in an email.

French brands Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon will be hard to find in the province, Bolduc said.

The surge in alcohol sales in the era of the pandemic, coupled with the usual surge in sales during the holidays, could leave store shelves deprived of certain products.

Liquor shelves in Nova Scotia are already short of champagne, scotch, whiskey produced in the United States, and some wines from New Zealand, Chile and Argentina.

“We have… signs on the shelves where we are experiencing shortages that tell customers the product is temporarily out of stock due to supply shortages,” said Beverley Ware, spokesperson for Nova Scotia Liquor Corp . “We recommend alternatives which they can buy.

While some products may not be available at all, she said in other cases, it can be as simple as recommending a different package size – a can as opposed to a bottle or 12-pack. rather than a six pack.

Saskatchewan is also experiencing alcohol supply chain issues, but continues to have a high 96% availability rate for the 500 best-selling products in the province, said David Morris, spokesperson for Saskatchewan Liquor. & Gaming Authority.

“The main impact has been on products imported through the ports of Vancouver,” he said in an email, noting that wines from Australia, New Zealand and South America have been the most important. most affected.

“While some products are currently affected, customers who shop in private and public retail stores across the province will continue to have access to a wide variety of alcoholic beverages throughout the peak holiday season. “

– With files from Keith Doucette.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 11, 2021.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press