“Galen Weston needs to disappear”: Expert has thoughts on grocery industry in Canada

Jan 17 2023, 8:43 pm

Canada is currently developing its first-ever Grocery Code of Conduct, and it has sparked several conversations about the state of the grocery industry in the country.

The pandemic and the war in Ukraine disrupted the world’s supply chain, causing food prices to shoot up globally.

Consumers in Canada have recently been suspicious of the country’s biggest grocery chains, especially because many corporations in the field have reported record profits during the pandemic as inflation soars to new heights.

Daily Hive talked to Agri-Foods professor Sylvain Charlebois about the upcoming Grocery Code of Conduct, big players in the grocery business such as Galen Weston Jr., and food inflation.

Charlebois has been urging the government for months to take a more critical look at the issues within Canada’s food retail sector. These issues include distribution, processing, and the uneven playing field between food suppliers and retailers, which are in the form of exorbitant listing fees and draconian fines for late and short deliveries.

Regarding the Code of Conduct, Charlebois is skeptical about whether or not it will be a success.

“It depends on compliance — will grocers buy in? I was hoping for a mandatory code that would be government-led. That’s not what we got. We got a voluntary code that will be government-coordinated but industry-led. A Code of Conduct will increase competition. In other words, you’re going to be giving independent grocers a chance to survive. Right now they can’t. In Canada, we are losing independent grocers.”

Charlebois adds, “It is quite possible [that only Sobeys could take part and everyone else would say no]. Only time would tell. Right now, the way I understand the language is that it’s a mandatory code, but I don’t see it right now.”

“I think Galen Weston needs to disappear”

Charlebois has some strong words for the spokesperson of Loblaws, saying, “Honestly, I do believe that someone else has to talk about No Name and President’s Choice. I don’t think it’s helping right now to be in people’s faces every single day. It really brings more animosity.”

He adds the second thing Loblaw’s should do to repair its reputation is talk about what they’re doing for the public, food banks, and people in need.

“Right now, Loblaw would do better without Galen Weston at the forefront. Things will change, and I expect when food prices start dropping, people will stop panicking about it, says Charlebois. “[Weston] is a nice guy, but he’s a boardroom kind of guy. Nobody at Loblaw is in the position to tell Galen Weston how to take a break as a spokesperson. No one is there to tell him. He’s part of the Weston family. When things calm down, he could come back. Canadians are looking for one scapegoat. There is no one scapegoat — there is a much broader problem.”

What else can Loblaw do to curry favour with Canadians?

Last year, Loblaw announced that it was imposing a price freeze on more than 1,500 items from its No Name brand. The price freeze is set to end at the end of this month. Charlebois believes there could be a benefit in extending it.

“I would extend beyond January 31. Right now, I would actually extend it until probably the spring and just to show good faith, show empathy towards the public because the public feels absolutely unprotected and there doesn’t seem [to be any] empathy coming from groceries at all,” says Charlebois.

With files from Daily Hive’s Arash Randjbar and Amanda Wawryk

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