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Canadian Supermarket CEOs ‘Should Be More Forthcoming’

Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne is hinting he’s losing patience with grocers’ secrecy. The Top 5 supermarket chains have revealed some immediate ‘measures’ they claim will stabilize food prices. But…

Minister Champagne - © 2023 CTV NewsCanadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne: He seems to be getting
annoyed with the hollow effort the Big 5 supermarkets have so far
put into effect, to bring down soaring food prices….

Did you find it odd that the big supermarket chains – Loblaw’s, Sobey’s, Metro, Costco and Walmart – refused to reveal their medium- and long-term plans for fighting food inflation?

All they would commit to was, “…more discounts, price freezes and price-matching campaigns.” But observers were quick to point out that all those measures usually come into play at this time of year anyway. Supermarkets all want to carve out the biggest slice of year-end holiday food spending.

So, what comes next?

We don’t know. We probably won’t know until sometime in January or February, 2024. And that’s apparently annoying Federal Industry Minister Champagne. Good.

“I wish they would be more forthcoming,” Champagne told the Canadian Press. “They’ve been outlining to us the kind of things (they) intend to do, but I think they have perhaps historically been different in how they approach the market. They say, ‘We’re going to tell the market when we do it,’ but they are a bit concerned of telling in advance what they’re going to do.”

Champagne of course, is continuing to tap dance around the entirely political issue of what would happen if the government pushed the supermarket giants harder.

Grocers play ‘competition’ card

“Our plans are competitively sensitive and we do not plan to discuss them before they are launched in our stores,” said Sobey’s spokeswoman, Karen White-Boswell. Nonsense. That doesn’t connect at all with the urgent need to make food prices affordable for the average consumer.

Loblaw’s, Costco and Metro remained strangely silent when asked to comment on Champagne’s statement. Walmart simply said it would continue it’s policy of setting ‘everyday low prices’ on products most families need and want, rather than declaring discounts or specials. Smoke and mirrors.

I’ve suggested, in previous posts, that that grocers may not, in fact, have any real plans for fighting food price inflation in the mid to long term.

I think they’re counting on food prices to come down on their own. Economists say they expect global economic conditions affecting fuel, fertilizer and other production costs to moderate by the middle of next year, anyway.

Aggressive action possible?

Sure. It’s possible. But the way things are shaping up, it doesn’t look as though the government will get tough with the supermarket giants.

Other countries such France have imposed retail price controls on food. Earlier this year, the French Government negotiated price cuts on 500 staples and other foods, lasting three months. Under government pressure, UK food giant Asda froze retail prices on a similar range of foods from June to the end of this past August.

No lasting price relief there, but a welcome respite for grocery shoppers in those jurisdictions. Especially if they thought to stuck up on essential long-shelf-life products during those periods.

Not, apparently in our cards

All indications are the Canadian Government will continue to handle the supermarket giants with kid gloves.

What annoys me is that the Government has refused to act in the best interests of the people who elected them. Instead, they’ve opted to kowtow to mega industry, on whose beneficence they think they must rely to stay in office.

The situation for the federal Liberals right now is as bad as it’s been in years. They are probably terrified of losing their ruling status if they demand rather than simply ask for food price reductions from the billionaires who run those Top 5 supermarket chains. God forbid Big Food should put its money behind the opposition in any future election campaign.

The conventional wisdom is, voters have short memories. The Liberals are counting on that to remain true in the case of the current, historic food price crisis. I think average folks will remember how little help they’ve received from their elected representatives. Food Bank demand is at unprecedented levels. Donations are at all-time lows. One in 5 Canadians is living below the poverty line.

The government’s popularity ratings are in the toilet. And it’s going to take more than just a swish of Lysol to clean that up.

~ Maggie J.