No evidence of grocery profiteering, researcher tells House of Commons food committee

Dalhousie University food researcher Sylvain Charlebois told MPs that there is no substantiated evidence of profiteering within the food retail industry in Canada.

The government should be more concerned with price co-ordination within the industry, said Charlebois, noting a recent example where Loblaw reduced the level of discounting on last-day sale items, citing alignment with its competitors.

“We must put the profiteering debate to rest,” he said.

Loblaw later cancelled the discount change after public backlash.

Charlebois, who is the director of Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, made the comments Tuesday before a House of Commons committee studying food prices.

He was joined by representatives from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Retail Council of Canada.

Karl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs for the Retail Council, told MPs that grocers have very little to do with food inflation.

Canada’s largest grocers have been under intense scrutiny from the committee and federal ministers of industry and food as grocery prices continue to rise at a faster pace than overall inflation.

Executives from the five biggest grocers — Loblaw, Empire, Metro, Walmart Canada and Costco — have appeared before the committee to answer questions about their profits during inflation.

The executives pushed back on suggestions that they were responsible for high food prices.

“The truth is we are at the end of a very long food supply chain that has economic inputs at every step and stage,” said Michael Medline, the president and CEO of Empire, in March.

Headline inflation accelerated to 3.4 per cent in December, while grocery prices rose 4.7 per cent that month.

Charlebois told the committee it should also prioritize the grocery code of conduct, which is nearly complete but at a standstill with Loblaw and Walmart saying they’re not ready to sign on.

The two grocers previously told the committee they are concerned the code as written will raise food prices for Canadians.

Proponents of the code say it will create a fairer playing field for suppliers and smaller grocers in the Canadian food retail industry.

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