Canada wants more grocers
The Canadian Press - Jan 30, 2024 - Business Buzz

Photo: The Canadian Press
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne

OTTAWA — Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is once again insisting that he is reaching out to international grocers in the hopes they will open up shop in Canada and spur more competition.

Champagne said Tuesday that he’d spoken to one foreign grocer that very morning as part of his efforts to court new players for the Canadian grocery sector, but he’s not naming any names.

“I can’t tell you too much, or else you won’t ask me questions next week,” he said in French in advance of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“I spoke with one company this morning.”

As food inflation rages on, Champagne has repeatedly teased in recent months the conversations he says he’s been having with foreign grocers.

Canada needs more competition for grocery dollars and having more players in the market would help put downward pressure on prices, he said.

“Am I going to succeed? I don’t know. But certainly, it’s worth trying.”

The focus on attracting international grocers comes after Champagne’s largely futile attempt to push Canadian grocers to help bring grocery prices under control.

He met with Canadian grocers in the fall and demanded they create plans to stabilize grocery prices or face consequences, including potential tax measures.

But beyond expressing disappointment that the grocers have not been more transparent, Champagne has stayed mum on whether the federal government plans to punish them for it.

“Large grocers have not, to date, been sufficiently transparent about the causes of food inflation, and they have failed, for the most part, to provide regular updates on initiatives aimed at stabilizing food prices in the country,” he wrote in a letter Monday to Matthew Boswell, Canada’s competition commissioner. “The continued record profits in the grocery retail sector indicate that there are more opportunities to bring relief for Canadian consumers.”

Metro Inc. reported a first-quarter profit of $228.5 million on Tuesday, with sales up by 6.5%. In a virtual press conference, CEO Eric La Flèche said retail price increases will start coming to grocery stores as soon as next week, as an industry-wide blackout period on supplier price increases comes to an end.

La Flèche has said Metro did not alter its prices in response to the meeting with Champagne.

Champagne’s letter to Boswell suggested a follow-up study on the grocery sector, now that the bureau has new powers to subpoena companies for information.

“I was disappointed to learn that the bureau’s study did not benefit from the full co-operation of large grocers,” the letter said. “I also look forward to discussing your assessment on the potential scope and feasibility of a follow-up grocery market study.”

Metro fully co-operated with the previous study, La Flèche insisted Tuesday.

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