Empire Co. hit by IT problems affecting pharmacies at Sobeys and other grocery stores

STELLARTON, N.S. — Grocery stores across Canada owned by Nova Scotia-based Empire Co. Ltd., including the Sobeys chain, continued Monday to experience computer problems that have made it difficult for some customers seeking prescriptions.

The company, based in Stellarton, N.S., issued a brief statement confirming that an "IT systems issue" was affecting certain pharmacies, though it said stores remained open and were not experiencing significant disruptions.

Some in-store services, however, were working intermittently or with a delay, though Empire did not explain what that meant.

The technical difficulties were first reported on the weekend.

On Sunday, Sarah Emery of Hansport, N.S., said she couldn't get a prescription filled to treat a migraine, because of a computer glitch at the nearby Lawtons Drugs pharmacy, a subsidiary of Empire Co. Staff there said the online system had been down for a couple of days, she said.

Emery said they told her they could fill the prescription, but she would have to pay out of pocket instead of charging it to her insurance.

"They said the computer issue stops them from being able to process the health plans," Emery said in an interview Sunday. "So they can process your prescription ... but they can't actually send it through to the various insurers."

Getting the prescription filled would have cost her between $200 and $300, which is why she went to another pharmacy for help. That pharmacy didn't have the nasal spray she needed. "I've been lying in bed all day in the dark," she said.

Meanwhile, Empire said Monday it was making progress in solving its IT problems but was unable to determine when the problems would be fixed.

With about $30.5 billion in annual sales and 130,000 employees, Empire's stable of retail outlets include 1,598 stores under a number of different banners, including IGA, Safeway, Foodland, FreshCo, Needs, Thrifty Foods, Rachelle Berry and Bonchoix.

"At Sobeys, exceeding the needs of our customers is always our top priority," Pierre St-Laurent, the company's chief operating officer, said in a statement. "Our sole focus right now is on getting this problem rectified and we will provide further updates as relevant information becomes available."

Empire operates 1,500 retail stores across all 10 provinces.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.

— With files from Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.

The Canadian Press