Documents from the Competition Bureau have revealed more information about that 14-year bread price-fixing scheme that Loblaws and Weston Bakeries admitted in December to participating in. These newly public revelations show the large scope of the operation and put a number on how much more Canadians were paying for their bread.
The Competition Bureau alleges that George Weston Ltd. and the Canada Bread Company were in direct communication to raise bread prices at least 15 times between 2001 and 2016 by about 10 cents a year for consumers. That total increase of $1.50 may not seem like a lot, but considering the millions of dollars Canadians spend on bread yearly, that’s a lot of money we could have spent on other groceries.
These strategic increases weren’t limited to sliced bread either. Prices for bagels, buns, tortillas, English muffins and other bread products were also bumped up. Weston Bakeries and Canada Bread (Canada’s only two wholesalers) would allegedly contact their retailers to get approval for each price hike. Retailers would agree to the hike on the condition that all competing participants followed through and then hold each other to the terms.
The Bureau alleges that these retailers included more than just the Loblaws stores that were originally reported. They claim the scheme extended to Walmart Canada, Giant Tiger, Sobeys and Metro and that the companies may have committed indictable offences under the Competition Act. Loblaws was granted immunity for their involvement in exposing the scheme.
Wednesday afternoon, Giant Tiger, Sobeys and Metro reiterated their December stances that they are confident that neither their companies nor individual employees participated in price-fixing. Walmart Canada declined to comment “as it is before the courts.”
A Loblaw spokesperson said that the documents are “unequivocal” and added, “We have admitted our role, and you cannot price fix alone.” Loblaws has offered a $25 gift card (available until May 8, 2018) to Canadians who purchased bread products from their stores over the 15-year period in question as a reparation.