Gov’t to research grocery prices, present findings in June as people can’t afford groceries now

It was almost a week ago to the hour after Loblaw patted itself on the back as a grocery hero that Canada’s Competition Bureau announced plans to investigate industry pricing.

You’ll recall, Loblaw issued a press release where the company shared that it was freezing prices of its private-label brand as a commitment to consumers during the inflation crisis.

The release, titled “Loblaw hits the brakes on food inflation by freezing prices on 1,500 no name products,” outlined the commitment to the end of January 2023.

Critics were skeptical about the move and why it needed a press release. The company, seeing near-record profits, quickly came under fire and once again put the industry under the microscope.

After the Loblaw move last week, Montreal-based grocery chain Metro, threw Loblaw under the bus telling CBC News, “It is an industry practice to have a price freeze from Nov. 1 to Feb. 5 for all private label and national brand grocery products.”

So, wait a second. Does this confirm the Loblaw announcement was indeed a PR stunt? Sounds like it to me if the industry already commits to a price freeze without great fanfare.

Meantime, it was this Monday morning that the Competition Bureau issued its own press release saying it’s launching a study “with the goal of recommending measures that governments can take to help improve competition in the sector.”

While I agree that grocery pricing needs to be investigated and something should be done, I question the lateness of such a move, and how long it’ll take to have anything come from the findings.

Consumers are encouraged to have their say on the bureau’s website until Dec. 16 and then, well, what? Two months to hear from people, then look at results and analyze them and by June will have findings that really don’t command any new rules or policies? Recommendations for government, sure, but we know how quickly (and effectively) governments respond to protect us.

I appreciate the bureau for welcoming public feedback but perhaps this is an instance where a legal body (ahem, federal government) steps in and says, “Look, executives: Knock it off.”

The pricing issue didn’t come out of nowhere. It was May 13 when I wrote in this column that I was appalled by a $50 “club size” pack of eight chicken breasts at a Loblaw store. By that point, we’d been enduring skyrocketing prices for a long time. Now, at the end of October, a government body without any clout on the matter is going to research it?

It’s interesting to watch Question Period when the subject of inflation and/or grocery prices comes up and Prime Minister Trudeau always answers that his government is putting money back into the pockets of Canadians. Problem is, he dodges the actual point: Do something about pricing.

Remember when the Rogers outage had the feds step in and demand action immediately? Where are they when it comes to Canadians being unable to feed themselves?

Don’t tell me Trudeau is afraid of Galen Weston.

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