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Price freezes, discounts on pantry items among grocery stabilization efforts coming 'soon': minister


Canadians frustrated by their food bills will "soon" start to see the big grocers taking action to address prices, including price freezes and price-matching campaigns, Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced Thursday.

Providing an update on what he is calling the "initial commitments" from Loblaw, Metro, Empire, Walmart and Costco, Champagne said all five have agreed to begin rolling out various actions at each of their stores that will result in lower grocery prices for Canadians "in the coming days and weeks."

For example, the government is promising that grocers will implement "aggressive discounts across a basket of key food products that represent the most important purchases for most households," a step the minister said is just the beginning "of a number of actions" being taken.

The minister said these examples are just some of the measures pitched to him by the big grocers, suggesting that the government's pressure on them to get prices under control, has spurred a more competitive dynamic between the big five.

"The winners of that are obviously Canadians," the minister said, pointing to recent grocery flyers as evidence of pre-Thanksgiving sales. "It will be up to Canadians to judge them, to benefit from the best offers." 

In addition, Champagne said the federal government is establishing a "grocery task force" within the Office of Consumer Affairs that will be focused on monthly monitoring of grocers' commitments and actions taken by others in the food industry.

This task force will be empowered to "investigate and uncover practices that hurt consumers, such as 'shrinkflation' and 'dequaliflation'."

Champagne said plans are still in the works to establish a grocery "code of conduct" to support fairness and transparency in the sector, and to create a new food price "data hub" to allow better access to information about the price of food in Canada.

These steps come after Champagne held a series of meetings over the last few weeks, starting with the CEOs and senior leaders from Canada's five major grocery chains, with the goal of working towards presenting a plan to stabilize food prices by Thanksgiving. 

Champagne also met with international manufacturing companies and domestic manufacturers, after the Retail Council of Canada called for Ottawa to work with more players along the supply chain to tackle the issue.

In a statement on Thursday, Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen said "keeping food prices as low as possible" has been Canadian grocers’ top priority since inflation surged at the end of the pandemic, pointing to how domestic prices have fared in comparison to other countries.

"The grocers are unique entities, with different business models and distinct approaches. They also abide by competition law principles requiring them to not discuss prices as a collective. This is why each grocer has made its own individual submission to government and will deploy its own approach to the challenge," she said. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had given an ultimatum to grocers, saying if they didn't come to the table, they would face consequences such as tax measures for "making record profits" on the backs of Canadians struggling to feed their families.  

Asked whether steps like price freezing—a measure certain grocers had already pursued—are really enough to satisfy the government's demands, Champagne said the Liberals will take additional action if these measures don't result in adequate food price stabilization. 

"Everything is still on the table," the minister said.


The cost of food and the inflation driving it has been a dominating issue on Parliament Hill since the fall sitting began, but as Canadians began preparing their grocery lists and stocking up for this weekend's meals, the political pressure from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has ramped up in the House.

On the heels of Champagne's announcement, Thursday's question period was no different, seeing jabs back and forth over the going rate for a Butterball turkey ahead of this weekend's festivities.

"Canadians didn't want champagne for Thanksgiving, they just want some food. I did a little bit of price shopping on that for him. In the last days of the Conservative government, the price per pound of turkey was $1.49 and the flyers today show it's $2.49," said Poilievre in one exchange with the minister.

"And I might add that the picture of the turkey during the Conservative years was a big plump beautiful bird, whereas right now it's a skimpy, shrimpy little thing that looks like it's been taxed to death."

Shooting back, Champagne decried the unserious approach his opponent was taking, saying that while he may be having fun, "Canadians have no fun these days," which was met with jeers from the other side.

Then, it was Singh's turn: "21 months since food prices have outpaced general inflation, and the prime minister wasn't willing to do anything until he started falling behind in the polls. That's two years that Canadians have been struggling because this government is unwilling to take on the real problem, which is corporate greed." 

While the pace of inflation has slowed compared to the heights seen in 2022, the latest Consumer Price Index report from Statistics Canada shows that the cost of most food items did increase year-over-year in August.

This price pressure has resulted in many Canadians changing their shopping habits, opting more often for discount stores or scouring flyers for deals. 

The federal Liberals are also pushing ahead with changes to Canada's Competition Act aimed at beefing up protections for Canadians in connection to current grocery sector competition through Bill C-56, "The Affordable Housing and Groceries Act." 

The government is pursuing amendments that if passed would give more power to the Competition Bureau to investigate and take enforcement action on unfair behaviour in the sector, such as price fixing or price gouging, while making it harder for large grocers to prevent smaller competitors from setting up shop nearby.

With Bill C-56 up for its fifth day of debate at second reading on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called on Poilievre to "end the procedural delays" saying there is "really no excuse for delaying this legislation."




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