High Food Prices - © bbq4dummies.com

Third Time Lucky? Still Hope For Canadian Food Price Relief?

Here we go again. The federal government has called the CEOs of the country’s Big 5 supermarket chains to Ottawa – again – to reveal their specific plans for reducing food prices. So far the grocers have demurred from any real commitment…

Galen Weston Witness - © 2023 Spencer Colby - CPCanada’s Richest Grocer: Galen Weston Jr. testified at a previous Federal Industry
Ministry inquiry into unsustainable food prices. He didn’t look happy…

For the third time this fall, the Canadian government has summoned the CEOs of the nation’s 5 largest supermarket chains to the Capital. This time, they’ve been ordered to come clean about their substantive plans to stabilize and reduce food prices.

They were first called in to be lectured by Canadian Industry Minister Francois-Philippe on the need to control and reduce food prices. On October 5, they were called back to lay out their plans for achieving that goal. And they disappointed Champagne, as well as millions of Canadians who are finding it hard to feed their families.

What they said

The Grocers were coy – to say the least – about their response to the Government’s demands. 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.

“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.”

They claimed they had to keep further plans secret to protect their competitive advantage. That didn’t impress the Minister. Or shoppers.

Back on October 19, Champagne instructed the grocers to come before him in two weeks to reveal their plans for the period following the year-end holidays. The CEOs are due to come before the Minister to testify again November 2.

Where we’re at

“You’re seeing more signs telling people things are changing, but when you actually look at prices specifically, there is nothing out of the ordinary,” Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, told CTV News.

And that’s really about all one can say, for certain, given the reticence of the grocers to commit to substantive measures.

Meanwhile, more folks are starving

The latest numbers may be hard for some of us to believe. But Food Bank demand in Canada (and presumably, in other Western countries) continues to rise at astronomical rates. And the folks who run the food relief effort say the situation is ‘unsustainable’.

The 2023 Hunger Count Report by Food Banks Canada (FBC) reveals that record numbers of Canadians are still turning to food banks. This in spite of much-publicised promises by the mega supermarket chains to control or lower prices.

“In March 2023, there were almost 2 million visits to food banks across Canada,” the Report screams. That represents, “a 32 percent increase compared to March 2022, and a 78.5 percent increase compared to March 2019, which is the highest year-over-year increase in usage ever reported.”

And demand has continued to increase.

Few options exist

Either the grocers must make significant, substantive commitments to stabilize and reduce food prices. Or the Government must impose price control measures. Otherwise, millions of Canadians already living below the poverty line may actually begin to starve.

Millions have already reported skipping meals. Adults have admitted they’ve gone hungry so their kids could eat. Massive changes in grocery shopping habits have taken place as over-stretched Canadians cut costs by buying less nutritious foods. And many of those say they know their health is probably going to suffer because of that. But they have no choice.

My take

Let’s use Canada’s biggest food magnate, Galen Weston as an example. He’s the CEO of Loblaw’s and holds sway over all the other supermarket chains and food-0related businesses owned by Maple Leaf Foods.

Weston is still relatively young, as billionaire industrialists go. He’s reportedly worth (C)$ 7.6 billion. And according to McLean’s Magazine, he’s the country’s richest grocer taking home (C)$5.4 million a year. His empire grosses (C)$53 billion annually.

Imagine what an impact Weston, all by himself, could make on the food price crisis if he deigned to commit even one of his stockpiled billions to stabilizing and cutting food prices?

And what about all the other multi-billionaires in the country? When does it become time to start giving back materially to the country and population that made your fortunes possible in the first place?

I often wonder if the fat cats in the 1 percent realize that every Canadian who starves is one less customer? And when will the politicians – who are chronically afraid to ruffle the feathers of the rich – realize that every Canadian in crisis is a vote for the other guys come next election?

~ Maggie J.