On Oct. 17, Loblaw Companies Ltd., Canada’s largest grocery retailer that owns and operates Loblaws, No Frills, Provigo, Maxi, Pharmaprix, among others, announced that it would be freezing prices on all its No Name branded products for the next three months. This means that approximately 1,500 No Name grocery items are now fixed at a set rate. After months of intense grocery price increases, Loblaw’s decision to freeze the prices of only one of its many brands is largely symbolic and won’t help those suffering from rising grocery prices. The No Name price freeze proves that Canada’s major grocery chains operate as an oligopoly, are dishonest about their profiteering, and are completely apathetic to the hardships of working-class Canadians. Especially in a time of unprecedented inflation, the Canadian government, as outlined by their antitrust statutes, should use the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) motion to investigate the grocery giants to regulate grocery prices for all products. Additionally, universities like McGill should remove mandatory meal plans, reduce prices at on-campus eateries, and provide resources for finding affordable and nutritious food around campus.
Loblaw’s platform choice in announcing the price freeze is certainly bizarre. Loblaw chairman and Weston Family Corp heir, Galen Weston, sent an out-of-touch email pushing the blame for skyrocketing prices away from his own company. The email did not address Loblaw’s soaring profit margins this past year, with corporate profits hitting an all-time high of nearly 20 per cent in the second quarter of the year. The email and symbolic price freeze make a mockery of the suffering that working-class people have faced this past year, and demonstrate Loblaw’s complete disregard for the Canadians they claim to serve. The price freeze at this point in the year does not help Canadians when the grocery prices have already gone through the roof, not to mention that the timing lines up with a standard-practice annual freeze anyway. The price freeze is clearly a marketing strategy, and not a charitable relief measure. With the top Canadian retailers holding 80 per cent of the market share, market concentration of this kind leads to higher prices. The NDP recently submitted a unanimous motion in Parliament to investigate price-gouging and to lower food prices in the House of Commons. In addition to an investigation into the grocery chain’s profits, the motion could strengthen competition laws and draw attention to how corporate greed is a significant contributor to inflation. .
Students in Canada are particularly affected by rising costs of living and tuition increases. Many students have suffocating amounts of student debt that remain a burden well beyond their university years. Furthermore, at McGill, where students face a rigorous course load, those who must work often do so at minimum-wage jobs, where they are not typically bringing in enough money to compensate for the price increases.
Further, No Name does not sell fresh produce, an essential part of a balanced diet. Despite Loblaw’s attempt to paint themselves as “generous overlords”, the price freeze is an insufficient measure to address unaffordable costs of living. McGill also has an unaffordable mandatory meal plan, with such high prices in campus eateries that students are unable to have three full meals per day. McGill must provide better support for students by reducing food prices. Additionally, McGill must actively work against the stigma associated with using food banks and other charitable organizations during difficult times, so that university students feel comfortable using these services instead of going hungry. Creating databases with lists of the lowest grocery food prices in areas such as the Milton-Parc or Plateau neighbourhoods could provide students with peace of mind and full pantries.
The negligible relief offered through price freezing simply cannot compensate for the staggering toll inflation has taken on Canadian consumers this past financial year. The Canadian government should use the current investigation into grocery giants to regulate prices and universities like McGill should offer students additional support during a time of record-breaking inflation.