“From a product point of view, it’s business as usual for us,” says Chris Sarantis with Montreal-based Canadawide. “However, from an operational point of view, it definitely isn’t. We are operating on the side of caution and keep on adding layers of protocols for additional safety,” he said. The company has less staff on the work floor and employees in the office rotate. “All in all, it takes more time to get things done, but we have found solutions.”
Canadawide sells nearly 20,000 SKUs of produce annually to a wide range of companies, including retailers, grocery chains, food wholesalers and food processing companies. “When Montreal’s restaurants and bars closed again on October 1st, we started noticing a shift in types of buyers,” commented Sarantis. Although restaurants are open for pick-up and delivery, the volumes they move are lower as indoor dining is not allowed. Since Canadawide sells to many restaurant suppliers, the company is noticing sales are shifting toward retail-based customers, with people eating at home more and being focused on healthy eating, supermarkets are experiencing strong sales. “They’ve had to make investments to become COVID-compliant and are seeing some shifts to different items, but in general sales are strong.”
Citrus is going strong
One of the produce items that continues to do very well is citrus. “People associate citrus with vitamins and the pandemic has resulted in very strong consumption of citrus items,” Sarantis commented. “Our citrus program is full speed ahead. In fact, it’s going aggressively strong.” Canadawide has import programs out of Spain, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, Florida and California. “Out of Europe and North Africa, we mainly work with Spain, Italy, and Morocco due to the short transit times.”
In just two weeks, the product makes it to the port of Montreal. Egypt and Turkey have great quality fruit as well, but the transit time of four weeks puts the countries at a disadvantage. Florida differentiates itself with grapefruit and juicing oranges and California is strong in oranges, clementines, and specialty items. “We import from many different regions as customers don’t limit themselves. Everywhere in the world, there are different people for every product.”
Citrus imported from Spain.
Some other key items the company brings in this time of year include grapes from Peru, Chile and South Africa, pomegranates as well as persimmons from Spain and California, pomelos from China, and lychees from Madagascar. “All our partners are making a strong effort to keep everything flowing as best as they can and as a result, it’s business as usual from a product perspective.”
Air shipment remains a challenge
“The biggest problem we are facing is air shipments.” There are not that many flights available, and rates are high. “We are just being careful with these programs and although we do air shipments, the volumes are lower.” The first cherries of the season from Chile and Argentina are traditionally brought in by air. This year, Canadawide brought in volumes by air, but is now transitioning into ocean transportation. The first vessel with stone fruit from Chile is scheduled to arrive mid-December, including cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.
Apricots brought in from Chile by air.