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Bugles have disappeared from Canadian stores, sending fans in search of a salty substitute

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The disappearance of Bugles, an ingredient used in making many holiday recipes, has some Canadians searching for alternatives to the delectably crunchy corn snack.

Bugles are still sold in the U.S., but have been discontinued in Canada for several months — just one of the latest products American food manufacturers are no longer selling here.

General Mills, the U.S. company that manufactures Bugles, did not respond to CBC’s calls or emails but has replied to hundreds of customers on Twitter, saying it hopes Canadians “can find a tasty substitute elsewhere.”

That substitute could exist in the snack aisle of your local Asian supermarket, according to Canadian fans of Bugles on Reddit. It’s called Tongari Corn — a salty, crispy, horn-shaped corn snack that’s been made by House Foods in Japan since the 1970s.

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Tongari Corn looks and tastes very similar to Bugles, which are no longer sold in Canada. The Japanese snack is sold at many Asian grocery stores across the country. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

Over the last few weeks, the Umami Shop in Lethbridge, Alta., has had customers come in daily asking for “Japanese Bugles” to use in their homemade nuts and bolts recipes, says owner Patricia Luu.

“We only have one bag left,” she said.

With her supply running low, Luu has ordered more of the Japanese corn snacks from her supplier in Vancouver. She says she got his “last six cases.”

The Umami Shop in Lethbridge, Alta.
The Umami Shop in Lethbridge, Alta., sells a variety of Japanese snacks including Tongari Corn. (Supplied by Umami Shop)

Loch Willy went looking for Tongari Corn at four Asian grocery stores in Saskatoon, but they were sold out.

CBC Radio’s Cost of Living found a bag in Calgary and shipped it to him so he could taste test the purported Bugles substitute alongside the original snacks. Willy had three bags of Bugles in his possession thanks to his snowbird parents who carried them back in their luggage for him from Arizona.

Willy uses Bugles to make nuts and bolts every Christmas and says his family recipe cannot be made without them.

“They have that distinct cone shape, they’re the finger hat. Honestly, if we were growing up and they weren’t in there, we would have noticed and been like, ‘Why? Where’s the Bugles?'”

Willy is an Indigenous artist, consultant and Bugles fan. (Submitted by Loch Willy)

When Willy and his daughter, Kiara, tore open the two different corn snacks, they were surprised at how similar the two products looked.

“I was skeptical, but wow!” Willy said. “I think most people wouldn’t know the difference.”

After several tastings, the Willys concluded that Tongari Corn was slightly “spicier” than Bugles but had the same texture. Overall, a “pretty good substitute” for any nuts and bolts recipes.

“Japanese Bugles look like they’re going to save Christmas,” said Willy.

Bugles not only U.S. snack to leave Canada

In the last five years, Canada has also lost other American products like Skippy peanut butter, Ragu pasta sauce and Grape-Nuts cereal.

Bagel Bites, a Kraft Heinz product, disappeared last month, along with Cosmic Brownies, Oatmeal Cream Pies and Swiss Rolls — the entire line of Little Debbie boxed treats, manufactured by McKee Foods Corporation. In an email statement, a spokesperson for the company told CBC the decision to “cease selling” the Little Debbie treats was not made by the brand itself but by its Canadian distributor.

When it comes to distribution, Canada is a “notoriously costly” place to do business, says UBC Sauder School of Business marketing professor Yann Cornil. As a big country with a low population density, Cornil said it’s expensive for companies to ship products from coast-to-coast.

“And there are requirements for packaging to be translated into French and English. That increases the cost for U.S. brands, so sometimes the decision is to just discontinue those products.”

A closeup of Tongari Corn, left, shows how similar the Japanese snack looks to Bugles, something that’s are often used in nuts and bolts — a salty, crunchy snack recipe that many Canadians make over the holidays. (Danielle Nerman/Loch Willy)

Competition in the snack aisle

Another reason Bugles may have left the Canadian market is because the snack was facing too much competition from store-owned brands like President’s Choice, Kirkland Signature and Great Value.

According to its 2022 annual report, most General Mills products compete “with generic and private label products that are generally sold at lower prices” and notes that economic uncertainty may push some consumers to purchase more store-owned brands.

“In those circumstances, we could experience a reduction in sales of higher-margin products or a shift in our product mix to lower-margin offerings,” the report said.

Every major grocery store in Canada has at least one, if not several, of its own private brands. A Sobeys spokesperson said the company adds hundreds of new products every year under its Compliments brand. Western Canadian grocer Calgary Co-op launched its store brands — Founders & Farmers and Cal & Gary’s — three years ago and already has more than 1,000 products on shelves.

The potato chip aisle at Superstore in Calgary on December 14, 2022.
The snack aisle at a Superstore in Calgary has a large section dedicated to its private “no name” brand of chips. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

“In the past, private labels were just cheap versions or imitations of a popular brand at a lower price and probably also at a lower quality,” Cornil said. “But that’s no longer the case. Now the private label can compete with the national brands even at the high end, even when it comes to satisfying niche segments of consumers.”

The snack aisle, in particular, is where consumers will find a wide variety of store-owned products — from low-salt and sea salt potato chips to gluten-free crackers and vegan cookies — and they get prime shelf space.

Cornil says that’s deliberate and just one strategy Canadian grocery stores use to encourage shoppers to choose their labels over name brands like Ruffles, Lays and Bugles.

Private brands are also typically cheaper because grocery chains have economies of scale — they make massive orders for all their stores, which allows them to negotiate lower prices with the manufacturers that produce their products.

And with inflation still running high, Canadians are reaching more often for store brands.

“Pretty much everyone buys private label groceries at some point,” said Brian Ettkin with Numerator Canada. The market research firm’s latest numbers show that compared to 2021, private label grocery sales in Canada are up four per cent this year.

Trend toward ‘healthier’ snacks

It could also be that Canadians just aren’t that jazzed anymore about America’s No. 1 Finger Hat. Bugles have been around since the 1960s and Cornil says tastes have changed since then.

“With snack foods, it’s an interesting market because there has been shifting demand for healthier, natural, less processed foods. And you see a lot of these are sometimes 50- to 70-year-old brands that clearly do not satisfy the new demands of consumers. So the companies, the manufacturers either have a choice to completely reformulate their products. Or to discontinue them in specific markets.”

Yann Cornil teaches marketing and behavioral science at UBC's Sauder School of Business.
Yann Cornil, who teaches marketing and behavioral science at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says consumer demand is shifting toward healthier and less processed snacks. (Submitted by UBC)

This isn’t the first time Bugles have been discontinued north of the border. It happened in 2010, and the snack was back in Canada a year later.

That does give Bugles fans like Willy hope, but in the meantime he’s finding other ways to get his salty corn snack fix. Whether that’s buying up bags of Tongari Corn or driving his parents’ car home to Saskatchewan from Arizona.

“I’ve already told them, ‘If you guys don’t want to drive home, I’ll fly down and bring your vehicle back. But I’m going to be filling it up with Bugles for all.”

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A shortage of pilots is making travel chaos in Canada even worse – CBC News

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From pandemic-related travel restrictions to extreme weather events, Canada’s travel industry has navigated an unprecedented amount of uncertainty of late. And now, just as demand for travel has returned to its 2019 level, airlines are navigating their next patch of turbulence: a lack of qualified pilots.

According to Transport Canada, in a typical pre-pandemic year, roughly 1,100 pilot licences were issued. When complemented by foreign-trained pilots, that was generally more than enough to satisfy the needs of carriers as large as WestJet and Air Canada, all the way down to regional, charter and cargo airlines.

But as demand for flying collapsed in 2020, so did the number of new pilots getting their paperwork. Government data shows less than 500 licences were awarded in 2020, a figure that fell to less than 300 in 2021 and just 238 last year.

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The department told CBC News in a statement that while labour shortages in the airline sector has been “identified as a priority area for action,” there are no current plans to loosen regulations. But the agency says it’s doing what it can to “increase the competitiveness of the Canadian flight training industry as well as improve the viability of aviation careers to address any shortages.”

Whatever changes do come will do little to help anyone in the short term, and travellers are already seeing the impact of the industry’s current labour crunch.

Staff shortages were a factor in charter airline Sunwing’s cancellation of 67 flights over the last two weeks of December, along with extreme weather.

Salaries for experienced pilots generally go up faster and higher at the major airlines than they do at most others, they are so typically able to have their pick among those available. That causes shortages just about everywhere else.

The head of the Air Transport Association of Canada says it’s a problem that had been brewing for many years, even before the pandemic.

“We haven’t had enough pilots for a long time, mostly at the regional level,” John McKenna said.

Long, expensive process

Getting a commercial licence is the last step in a multi-year process of becoming a pilot, a journey that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take years.

In Canada, for many that journey ends with a dream job at either WestJet or Air Canada, but because of the expense and time commitment of training a new pilot, the major airlines often hire top staff from smaller carriers instead of methodically developing their own.

“Their fishing grounds is the regional carriers. And the regional carriers go down to the smaller carriers, air taxi groups … those levels have been hurting for many years,” McKenna said.

Canada’s two biggest airlines told CBC News in emailed statements that while there is indeed a higher than normal demand for pilots right now, both of them are managing to meet their needs.

“As a large global carrier operating the most modern, largest aircraft, we are a very desirable destination for talented pilots,” AIr Canada said. “As a result, we are able to attract pilots as required.”

“We have and continue to responsibly manage and plan our operations to meet the anticipated demand of our guests and are fully staffed across our network to support our operation,” WestJet said.

That’s not the case for everyone else. Small airlines often have so few pilots on staff that it doesn’t take the loss of very many to stop planes from flying.

Dave Boston
Dave Boston is a licensed pilot and also runs a job board to help other pilots find work. (Dave Boston)

In the fall, Sunwing applied to bring in more than 60 temporary foreign workers to meet demand for pilots, but that application was rejected, which exacerbated the chaos seen at the end of 2022. The airline has since cancelled almost all flights out of Saskatchewan and most out of Manitoba for the rest of the winter travel season.

Pandemic reduced numbers, too

It’s not just the big boys gobbling up all the qualified pilots, either. Many simply left the profession during the pandemic.

“Two years ago, to the day, literally almost every pilot [was] out of work,” says Dave Boston, a pilot with 25 years experience who’s also the man behind Edmonton-based aviation job board, Pilot Career Centre.

Faced with furloughs and layoffs at airlines big and small, many pilots tried to wait it out, but many simply moved on, he told CBC News in an interview.

“Many who had businesses or other interests, after maybe six months to a year, had to put food on the table, and they left the industry,” Boston said.

For the pilots who are left, headhunting is the new normal. He says he hears from desperate airlines every day, because they either can’t find the staff, or just lost yet another one. “It’s very common for pilots, unfortunately, to work there for six months [then] get a surprise interview that they don’t expect to get, and then they’re gone,” he said.

“It’s a real challenge right now.”

Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates.
Zona Savic, right, listens to her instructor inside the cockpit of a flight simulator unit at Seneca College. Savic has long dreamt of being a pilot, and a lack of qualified flyers means she should have plenty of job prospects once she graduates. (Shawn Benjamin/CBC)

One person hoping to meet that challenge is Zona Savic, a soon-to-be graduate of one of Canada’s premier aviation schools, Seneca College in Peterborough, Ont.

While she had planned to go into engineering, she joined the Air Cadets while in high school, and was quickly bitten by the aviation bug.

“I just knew from the moment that I was in that plane, this is what I was going to do,” she told CBC News in an interview.

She’s on track to get her pilot’s licence soon, and while she may do additional training to become an instructor herself, she says it’s a load off her mind to know that she won’t have to worry about finding a job.

And even better for the industry, she has no qualms about working her way up at smaller carriers flying niche, remote routes.

” I just love the feeling of flying, so if that’s what I’m doing, I don’t really care if I’m in Paris, or in Nunavut,” she says. “Anything is good for me, as long as I get to experience that.”

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Q4 economic growth slows to 1.6% as aggressive hikes bite – BNN Bloomberg

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Canada’s economy geared down at the end of 2022, growing at about half the pace of the third quarter and setting the stage for a period of little to no growth.

Preliminary data suggest gross domestic product was flat in December as increases in retail, utilities and the public sector were offset by decreases in the wholesale, finance and oil and gas industries, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday in Ottawa. That followed a 0.1 per cent gain in November, which matched economist expectations in a Bloomberg survey, and a 0.1 per cent increase in October.

Overall, the monthly gains point to annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 1.6 per cent, according to an initial estimate from the statistics agency. Though it will likely be revised, it’s down sharply from a 2.9 per cent pace in the third quarter, 3.2 per cent during April to June, and 2.8 per cent in the first three months of last year.

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The numbers show that higher interest rates, which have jumped 425 basis points since last March, are slowing economic activity and weighing on consumption. The lagged effects of the Bank of Canada’s aggressive tightening campaign are expected to drag growth to a halt this year, with economists seeing two quarters of shallow contraction in the first half of 2023.

That’s a key reason why Governor Tiff Macklem and his officials said this month they plan to hold the benchmark overnight lending rate at 4.5 per cent if growth and inflation evolve broadly in line with their outlook. While the 1.6 per cent growth in the final quarter is slightly stronger than policymakers forecast last week, signs of slowing demand are mounting.

“The economy hasn’t yet absorbed the impact of past rate hikes,” James Orlando, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in a report to investors. “Even though today’s growth numbers are holding up well, the BoC can feel comfortable keeping its policy on cruise control a little while longer.”

In November, growth in services-producing industries was partially offset by a decline in the goods sectors, the statistics agency said. Interest-rate increases continued to dampen activity for real estate agents and brokers, residential building construction, and legal services which have been trending downward since spring.

Construction dropped 0.7 per cent, with new construction of single detached homes and home improvement leading the decline. Accommodation and food services contracted 1.4 per cent on lower activity in bars and restaurants. Retail trade decreased 0.6 per cent, with the food and beverage subsector falling to its lowest level since April 2018.

The central bank expected fourth-quarter growth of 1.3 per cent annualized, while economists in Bloomberg surveys predicted a gain of 0.9 per cent. Official data for December and the fourth quarter will be released Feb. 28.

Based on initial estimates, Canada’s economy expanded 3.8 per cent in 2022, broadly in line the Bank of Canada’s estimate for a 3.6 per cent growth.

“The overriding message is that the economy is just managing to keep its head above water, which squarely fits with the BoC’s view,” Doug Porter, chief economist at Bank of Montreal, said in a report to investors.

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Nike sues Lululemon, says footwear infringes patents – CTV News

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Nike sued Lululemon Athletica on Monday, saying that at least four of the Canadian athletic apparel company’s footwear products infringe its patents.

Nike in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said it has suffered economic harm and irreparable injury from Lululemon’s sale of its Blissfeel, Chargefeel Low, Chargefeel Mid and Strongfeel footwear.

Nike said its three patents at issue concern textile and other elements, including one addressing how the footwear will perform when force is applied.

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The Beaverton, Oregon-based company is seeking unspecified damages.

Lululemon, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Christopher Cushing) 

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