‘Fair food prices for all’: ACORN calls on government to take action

Protestors gather outside a New Westminster Save-on-Foods calling on the federal government to put a cap on grocery prices. Angela Bower reports.

A Canadian organization dedicated to advocating for economic justice demonstrated outside Save-On-Foods in New Westminster Saturday, demanding the government ensure “fair food prices for all.”

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is demanding all the biggest grocery chains “stop price gouging hard-working Canadians” following a National Day of Action and campaign launches in nine cities across Canada.

Canadians struggle to get by during the “affordability crisis,” ACORN says, while grocery stores are making record profits.

“In fact, the profits earned by grocery chains are now twice what they were before the pandemic,” it said in a news release.

Jim Stanford, economist and director at the Centre for Future Work Vancouver, says there are several factors that have led to high food costs — including higher energy costs and oil prices — but that doesn’t explain all of the price increases.

“The economic evidence is clear that supermarket profits have risen dramatically since the COVID Pandemic,” he said. “Profits have more than doubled, and in 2023 they have reached record high profits.”

Stanford says the Canadian grocery market is dominated by three big chains: Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro. He says there are also smaller chains like Pattison Food Group’s Save-On-Foods, “but they don’t break out their information publicly because it is a subsidiary of a bigger conglomerate.”

The federal government held a committee hearing on food prices Tuesday, with Minister of Innovation, Science, and Industry François-Philippe Champagne calling the situation concerning.

“50 per cent of the market is controlled by three companies,” Champagne said. “What we need is more competition.”

Food Banks Canada says there were two million food bank visits nationally in 2023.

“To counter this food inflation, Canadians are buying lower quality and quantity of food items,” ACORN said.

The organization claims that with more than 2,500 locations, Loblaw alone has more than 20 grocery and food brands under its banner.

ACORN Canada is calling on the federal government to “tax excessive profits made by grocery chains” and “place a cap on the price of essential food items,” as done in some European countries.

Stanford says any tax on these excessive profits should be redistributed back to Canadian consumers.

“Especially lower income households,” he said. “We have done this with banks and insurance companies.”

CityNews reached out to the Pattison Food Group, who provided a statement saying there are different challenges on their end.

“We are based in Western Canada, and the majority of our products are produced 2,000 kilometres away in the eastern part of the country. At one point, transportation of these products alone cost an additional $500,000 per week,” the company said in the statement.

It tells us Save-on-Foods is a regional grocer and does not have the scale or purchasing power of the major national and multi-national grocers.

“The operational, product, and support chain cost increases that we have incurred far outweigh any increases that we have made to pricing in our stores,” the company said.

It also adds that it is aware Canadians are being impacted by the affordability crisis and says it is doing what it can to counter that, but have their own costs to make up for.

“We know Canadians are being impacted by record high inflation rates, driven by escalating fuel and raw material costs, supply chain challenges, product shortages, and industry-wide labour shortages, and we continue to do everything in our power to keep retail prices as low as possible,” it said.

“Unfortunately, with the upcoming increase in the carbon tax, we’ll continue to see pressure on food costs from the grower to the retailer and everyone in between.”

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