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UPDATE: Loblaw’s Caves On Reduced Clearance Discounts

We reported just days ago that Canada’s largest supermarket empire had cut its ‘Enjoy Tonight’ deep discounts from 50 to 30 percent. But that turned out to be a publicity Pandora’s Box. Now, Loblaw’s has caved under intense consumer pressure…

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Just last week, we reported that Loblaw’s had quietly cut its famous (at the grassroots, anyway) ‘Same Day’ discounts on staples such as bread, produce and meat, from a welcome 50 percent to just 30 percent.

The discounts were clearly visible to browsing shoppers, thanks to large, orange stickers on the clearance products reading: ‘Enjoy Tonight! – 50% Off’.

What it is

It’s Loblaw’s way of getting something in the till for perishable ‘clearance’ items – foods that were at or near their Best Before dates, and might otherwise be trashed if not sold ‘same day’. Any revenue in the till is better than none at all.

The hungry masses, who often can’t afford produce and meat due to soaring prices and plunging buying power, have come to cherish these discounts as a way of making ends meet. And not giving up altogether the manner in which they used to dine.

Many dimensions to the benes

But it’s a more complex situation that is visible on the surface. I’ve posted in this space more than once about the opportunities thee discounts afford the cash-strapped ordinary family.

Yes, the stickers say, ‘Enjoy Tonight’. But you can still stock up on discounted meats and bread and freeze them for up to 3 months. That can be a mega-boost to an average family’s food budget. And it’s collective health and well being.

Remember: ‘Best Before’ dates simply refer to the appearance (and occasionally the flavour or texture) of a food item. ‘Best Before’ is definitely NOT the same as an ‘Expiry Date’. Loblaw’s ‘Enjoy Tonight’ discounted foods are entirely wholesome and ‘safe’. And can be consumed without doubt or worry.

What happened

Loblaw’s simply caved on the discount cutback in response to the tsunami of customer complaints, and the bad publicity they generated.

In a statement to Canadian Press, company spokesperson Catherine Thomas confirmed last Friday afternoon that, after listening to feedback from customers and colleagues, Loblaw’s is reverting to its previous discounting practice.

Thomas says customers can expect to see ‘50% Off’ stickers return in the next few weeks. Why not immediately? Probably because Loblaw’s has spent tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars printing up ‘30% Off’ stickers, and can’t bear to throw them out.

Already in the country’s ‘bad books’

Secondarily, the Parliamentary Inquiry into the situation called for by NDP MP Alistair MacGregor has now been headed off. Loblaw’s honchos – along with the other members of the so-called Big 5 Grocers – probably decided they couldn’t take any more heat over food prices. They were raked over the coals last summer and fall by the Federal Competition Bureau about continuing high food prices, even as overall inflation was beginning to moderate.

Also, new Grocery Code of Conduct is in the wings. The supermarket chains are not happy about being regulated – much less, so publicly. At the centre of the controversey is – Guess who? – Loblaw’s CEO Galen Weston. He’s openly criticised the notion of a Code of Conduct. But other grocers and a whole host of consumer groups have debunked his assertion that such a Code would just mean even higher food prices.

My take

The sneaky move to cut discounts was just the latest stroke of the metaphorical brush that’s been painting ever-larger horns of greed on Weston’s public image, lately.

How could anyone who was the least bit concerned about their customers countenance cutting the ‘Enjoy Tonight’ discount? Keep in mind, the products were headed for the dumpster, anyway, if they couldn’t be sold. That would have been a total loss to Loblaw’s. But somebody noticed how popular the discounts were with struggling consumers, and decided to try to squeeze another 20 percent of profit out of the ‘peasants’.

I’ve said it before, and I have to ask the question again: Mr. Weston: How do you want to be remembered by History? As a saint or a devil? Or is your God Mammon, and you don’t have a conscience, much less care what people think of you? Like Ebenezer Scrooge, you still have time to redeem yourself…

~ Maggie J.