Noodle shortage affecting supply at Calgary's Vietnamese restaurants
Local Vietnamese restaurants are scrambling to maintain supplies of one of their most basic ingredients: Pho noodles.
The owners of Calgary’s Pho Kim restaurant tried to stock up on rice noodles, but their supplier is currently rationing supplies.
"When we heard that there would be a shortage we tried to get as much as we could," said Sandy Trinh, co-owner of Pho Kim Vietnamese Restaurant. " But then they started limiting how many boxes go out to every restaurant. And then we tried sourcing out other types of noodles, other brands, and even we went to fresh noodles.
"The suppliers aren't getting enough products to ration out to all the restaurants at the moment so we're doing the best that we can to find the best quality best products for our customers to keep our soup and our noodles and everything consistent."
The noodle shortage affects noodle shops and Vietnamese restaurants across the city.
CTV News contacted 12 separate restaurants, and all confirmed they are having difficulty sourcing noodles and other products traditionally imported from Southeast Asia.
As with any shortage it means prices have skyrocketed for the ingredients.
"Back at the beginning of summer a case of noodles was going for about $40," said Tai Trinh, who with his sister runs Pho Kim. "Now we are paying $60 a case."
He says a case of noodles contains 30 packages and a busy Vietnamese restaurant can burn through that in just over a day.
"We'll grab about 10 (cases) and that should last us a week or two, but that's pretty much all the (the suppliers) are letting us take right now."
The shortage is largely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected both manufacturing and shipping in Southeast Asia.
The surging Delta variant in Asian populations with low vaccination rates has left many factories there crippled by worker shortages.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest city and its export hub, is facing tough travel restrictions and is under a virtual lockdown.
One of the world's busiest ports in Ningbo, China was also partially closed for two weeks in August due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Sam Woods of Jori Logistics says to add to the burden, the world’s largest companies are buying up most of the available space on shipping lines, essentially shutting out smaller importers.
“Unless you're buying, you know, 10s of 1000s of containers of noodles a year, you're going to be kind of stuck paying the spot market prices, which have just skyrocketed right now," s aid Woods “The small, and medium-sized guy can't get onto the ship, because it's all been taken by the bigger guys. And if he wants on the ship, he's got to pay a premium to get on there.”
Woods said a shipping container from Asia to Calgary cost approximately $2500 at the beginning of last year. Right now that same container costs approximately $20,000 to ship.
“Rates just keep coming up. They've stabilized a little bit in the last couple of weeks. We've actually seen it go down a blip. But it's like a pint of good news and an ocean of bad news," said Woods.
In the face of those international stresses, Calgary restauranteurs are left struggling to maintain quality and price for their customers.
"At the moment we're trying our best to but it's been a tough two years with the COVID closures," said Sandy Trinh. "So we're trying our best to keep the cost the same but, yeah, eventually everything's going to have to go up."
Trinh says her restaurant has enough noodles on hand to last about a week, but isn't certain how much will be available when she goes back to her wholesaler later this week.
"Unfortunately, if they don't get another shipment in then we make what we can and we find whatever products we can sell."