The ‘Greedflation’ Campaign Against Canadian Grocery Retailers Needs to End, Now. [Op-Ed]

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The Standing Committee on Agri-Food and Agriculture in Ottawa has recently published a report addressing the investigation into food inflation and examining whether food companies are opportunistically leveraging the inflationary environment to raise prices. The term “greedflation,” coined by certain politicians and economists, highlights the notion of excessive greed and self-interest, which may contribute to inflationary pressures, particularly directed towards food companies.

The report exhibits a strong and well-founded approach, likely crafted by MPs who dedicated time to comprehend the intricacies of food distribution and pricing. It surpasses the numerous superficial accusations we have now heard for months. Initially, Ottawa demonstrated support for the concept of “greedflation”, but subsequent engagement with industry experts enabled MPs to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the matter. Consequently, the report emphasizes that Parliament should assign higher priority to other pressing concerns. Despite initial pretenses and political disputes, the committee ultimately got it right.

Most of the recommendations urge Parliament to prioritize efficiency throughout the supply chain. This entails supporting farmers, acknowledging the support needed by indigenous communities, particularly in Northern regions, establishing reciprocal standards for imported products, and eliminating best-before dates. Although diverse in nature, these recommendations highlight the dire need for a comprehensive food policy in Canada. The investigation conducted by the committee simply reinforced what was already known.

Of utmost importance, the Committee advises the government to fortify the Competition Bureau’s mandate and enable effective competition oversight within the Canadian grocery sector. This entails addressing “black-out” periods when grocers implicitly freeze wholesale prices, revenue-sharing mechanisms, and barriers to entry for external players. This aspect emerges as the report’s most critical component.

Among the 13 recommendations, two stand out prominently. The first is Recommendation no.1, which proposes that the Government of Canada should undertake necessary measures to gather and publicly disclose data on costs throughout the entire agri-food supply chain in Canada. This includes acquiring detailed cost data from sectors such as primary agriculture, food and beverage processing, and food retail. The underlying intention of this recommendation is to provide increased transparency to the public, which seeks answers and clarity. However, transparency, when taken to extremes, can present challenges.

Implementing such a system, encompassing thousands of products, would prove arduous, and ensuring data accuracy would pose a significant challenge. Companies disclosing their true costs may encounter a competitive disadvantage compared to those opting not to disclose accurate data. Ottawa would need to employ a substantial team of auditors to verify the validity of the data. Companies would also need to increase costs by hiring more personnel solely for compliance purposes, thereby potentially leading to increased food prices. Full cost disclosure may necessitate revealing sensitive information, including proprietary formulas, supplier contracts, or manufacturing processes. Consequently, companies and investors might choose to withdraw from such a market. Additionally, it could grant unfair advantages to foreign companies that are not obligated to disclose unless their operations are based in Canada. Paradoxically, cost disclosure could potentially result in collusion or anti-competitive behavior among companies. If all companies have access to detailed cost information, there is a risk of coordinated pricing strategies or practices that impede competition, ultimately limiting consumer choice and market dynamics, which should be avoided.

The second noteworthy recommendation is Recommendation no.9, proposing that the Government of Canada explore the possibility of implementing a windfall profits tax if the upcoming study conducted by the Competition Bureau reveals instances of abuse by grocers. It is crucial to note that the Competition Bureau’s study was never intended to evaluate greed within the system. Additionally, a windfall tax would discourage competition over time, representing a short-term solution that could detrimentally affect our food autonomy as a nation.

Ultimately, the task of measuring greed proves to be exceedingly challenging. Attempting to delineate an acceptable threshold for profitability becomes an exercise in futility. In essence, what cannot be properly measured cannot be properly assessed. That is what “greedflation” is. Instead of incessantly engaging in finger-pointing, our efforts should be directed towards fortifying the food industry, precisely as recommended in the report.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

15 COMMENTS

  1. LOL.
    According to Unifor, the average grocery worker in Canada earns $18.97 an hour, which works out to an annual salary of $34,525 if they work 35-hour weeks. So, it would take those workers more than 340 years to make Weston’s 2022 earnings of $11.79 million, Unifor said.Apr 6, 2023.
    So yes, greedflation. Hoarding. Gouging. Raking in millions while parents dont eat so their kids can eat that day.

    • Yes and they had workers making that in 1988 getting 40 hours a week with benefits and pension. The reality is any large businesses not just these ones have noy shared in their success and profit with their employees for many many years. What we as Canadians have accepted as good wages is BS.

  2. That’s a lot of words while not saying much. Any rational person can simply walk through Loblaws and see the artificial inflation.

    How are no-name fries 2 for $9 when you can go to Walmart and get name brand for $2.29. you can get their brand for less than $2. Loblaws has a huge margin on no-name products. I could give you hundreds of examples.

    Loblaws colluded for years to fix the price of bread and denied, denied, denied. They finally got caught, admitted it, and still haven’t paid.

    They are a crooked organization whose first priority is to their shareholders. I won’t elaborate about their poor treatment of ‘low level” employees.

    The bottom line is that the political investigation was all smoke and mirrors. It did nothing and I believe it was intended to placate the millions of Canadians infuriated about this issue. Politicians rise to power through the kickbacks of these corporations. They have no interest in making an enemy of them. However, Canadians aren’t buying what the “interrogation” is selling and they’d be wise not to buy from Loblaws.

    Your dollar speaks and reducing the profits of these corporations is the only thing that will bring change.

  3. Regardless of supplier increases or store price increases the price of products will continue to increase. Because this is tied to inflation the BOC will continue to raise interest rates. Then the interest rates are tied to inflation as well. Grocery prices will possibly fall slightly but grocery stores have gotten used to profit levels and are going to resist decreases.

  4. More importantly even if you could contrive a means to track all this possible collusion and artificially inflated prices and fine grocery chains who would get the money, our government not the people who actually need the money.

    Can someone tell me how of our politicians have shares in chains like Loblaw?

  5. I live in a farming community. The farmers dropped their prices to TRY and help the consumers. 2 weeks later I noticed a sizable INCREASE in cost at the grocery store.

    Add to that the 6 farms in my area that are being plowed over, not even for housing, but transportcomanies and other industrial buildings. Green belt wasn’t opened up to HOUSING development, it was opened up to whatever the developers want to build.

    We, as the PEOPLE of Canada are NOT a priority in Canada, campaign contributions are.

  6. What a pathetic bootlicker. It’s blatantly obvious there’s price gouging, especially by Loblaws. My local store has those cheese blocks for $9.50 each. For a “block” that isn’t a block anymore because the makers have been shrinking them over and over. Two blocks away, Rexall has them for $7.49 regular price. They’re often on sale for $5.49. This isn’t even a grocery store. It’s a drug store with one half of an aisle with basic foods and a very small cooler for milk, cheese etc. If they can make a decent profit from $7.50 then why does Loblaws need $9.50 for theirs?
    There’s never been a time in history more in need of a bloody, violent revolution.

  7. Record profits while Canadians compromise their health and finances to pad Big Grocery’s eyewatering bonuses.
    This particular author really, really seems to want you to leave the poor billionaires alone.

  8. Look at it simply.

    My rent is up, my food costs are up, my energy bill is up. My salary is not increasing as quickly. Effectively, my household operating margin is trending downwards, drastically.

    Margins for large corporations, including those running almost all of our grocery stores, are not trending downwards. They are stable, leading to record profits.

    This is a problem. Money is being channeled from households to maintain corporate margins. Maybe government does not have perfect tools to address this problem, but it’s their job to try to protect the citizenry against problems like this.

  9. Apples are 8 dollars a pound in Penticton, the supposed Canadian fruit basket. Meat is so expensive I only buy what’s reduced and eat it the same day. Meanwhile the quantities by weight in many packaged foods goes down but the price always goes the other way. Gouging and greed, collusion and price fixing and the thing you never mention, the sneaky way retailers never carry precisely the same products to avoid mostly having to price match anything. But yes by all means, Parliament should continue letting you guys squeeze us like the remorseless soulless pythons you are.

  10. Galen Weston and friends contrived and executed a price-fixing plan on bread over several years that brought formal charges against them not 5 years ago.
    The problem never went away and “they” never had to properly reimburse customers or see even a night in prison for it, where they 100% belong still.
    Price control is real and therefore gouging is real. Smug POS smiles for cameras knowing he literally caused food scarcity for the lowest household economies in this county

  11. If you aren’t being a Robin Hood when you go grocery shopping you’re doing it wrong. They’re extorting us so we must level the playing field. (Loblaws only, not mom and pop shops)

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