Loblaw’s price freeze is nothing but a publicity stunt, critics say

A way to help Canadians with rising household food bills, or nothing more than a publicity stunt?

For anti-poverty activists, politicians and ordinary Canadians on social media, it was undeniably the latter, after Loblaws announced Monday it would freeze the prices of its No Name branded products until January 31, 2023.

“This definitely feels like a marketing game. It won’t really make a material difference because food prices are already so high,” said Leila Sarangi, national director of Campaign 2000, a coalition of groups working to end child and family poverty.

“Low-income people, fixed-income people, working poor, people with disabilities who are on a disability program, kids living in poverty, they’re not really going to benefit from this feel-good announcement,” Sarangi said.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says the price freeze is proof of his party’s claim that retailers have more control over food prices than they’ve admitted.

“The pressure is working. The mask is off – supermarket CEOs have always had the power to freeze prices. With your pressure, we exposed greed and forced them to act. But it’s still not enough. I’ll keep fighting until you can get fair food prices,” Singh tweeted before an NDP motion on food inflation was passed unanimously in the House of Commons. (A motion is not a law and therefore has no legal effect).

The spokesperson for Loblaw Cos. Ltd., Catherine Thomas, said in an emailed statement that the price freeze on about 1,500 No Name branded products will give Canadians a break as inflation continues to climb.

“With the current price freeze, Canadians can expect more predictability from their grocery bill. In addition, in the coming weeks we will continue to lower prices (for both unnamed and other products) through PC Optimum, in our flyer and in our stores, all designed to provide instant relief. address the escalating food costs,” Thomas said.

A spokesperson for Metro Inc. said, however, that the price freeze is something that happens every year after all.

“It is industry practice to have a price freeze on all national brand private label and grocery items from November 1 to February 5 and this will be the case in all Metro (in Ontario, Metro, Food Basics, Adonis) banners. There may be a few price increases received before October 31 that will appear on the shelf, but no price increases after that,” Marie-Claude Bacon said in an emailed statement.

A spokesman for Empire Co. Ltd., which controls Sobeys, Longo’s and Farm Boy, did not respond to a request for comment.

Thomas didn’t respond to questions about how much No Name prices have risen in the past two years, nor why Loblaws hasn’t extended the price freeze to the other products on the shelves, including the flagship President’s Choice brand.

Food industry analyst Sylvain Charlebois said it’s no mystery why the price freeze wasn’t wider: The PC product line is one of Loblaws’ most vital profit centers.

“They’re going to fight for that one with everything they’ve got. The last thing they want to do is even hint that it’s a discount brand,” said Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

Charlebois agreed that there is a clear marketing element to Loblaws’ announcement, as it was released just two days before September’s inflation data by Statistics Canada.

“Now, when the inflation numbers come out and people pat shopkeepers on the fingers and say, ‘What have you done to help?’ Loblaws will have an answer,” said Charlebois, adding that freezing prices on private labels, including No Name and PC, is easier for retailers than other brands.

“They have much more control over the economy and supply chain with private labels than with anything else. Think about what happens if you are a supplier. Your only customer, or your biggest customer comes up to you and says, ‘We are’ prices freeze, so you’ll have to help us with that.’ What will a supplier do?” said Charlebois.

Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, said he expects food inflation to remain above the key consumer price index to be released on Wednesday.

“I’m a little worried about the September issue. Most commodity prices continued to fall in September, but that will take some time before we see it permeate consumer prices. The food price is an example, they are likely to remain higher than headline inflation in September,” said Antunes, who predicts headline inflation will remain close to the seven percent seen in August, when food inflation rose to a 41-year level. high of 10.9 percent. cent.

MET chief economist Doug Porter said the bank expects a 6.8 percent forecast, but expects food inflation to be higher than that.

“Food inflation is expected to remain high in the month, but we will look for signs that it could pick up (albeit at a still very fast pace),” Porter said. “The pressure on food costs is stratified, but is exacerbated by, among other things, the ongoing drought in the American plains, the war in Ukraine, high energy costs. I want to point out that US supermarket inflation is even stronger than ours, so this is a widespread problem.”

Canadians mocked the No Name prize freeze on social media.

“This is a PR stunt that tries to trick us into forgetting that Galen Weston is an oligarch,” Julie S. Lalonde tweeted.

“Raises prices to record highs, stings consumers, then freezes prices at those record highs… Does Galen Weston expect a gold star? #cdnpoli #greed #LoblawsEl Canaco tweeted.

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