canada bread price fixing

Here's what should have happened to Loblaws' Galen Weston for price fixing

Even though Galen Weston Jr. is no longer at the helm of Loblaw Companies Ltd., the supermarket oligarch and his family will forever remain hated by the public for many, many reasons, chief among them their company's role in the legendary bread price-fixing scandal.

In the long-running conspiracy, Canada Bread and Weston Foods colluded to overcharge customers on various bread products, artificially raising prices twice over the course of at least 14 years and allegedly convincing other competitors to do the same.

Anyone who purchased packaged bread products from select stores between Nov. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2021 was affected.

As the Competition Bureau continues to investigate Sobeys, Metro, Walmart Canada, Maple Leaf Foods and Giant Tiger, Canada Bread has just been ordered to pay $50 million to the feds after pleading guilty for its role in the scam.

Loblaw execs, already having acknowledged the "industry-wide price-fixing arrangement involving certain packaged bread products," had previously secured an immunity deal, offering consumers a free $25 gift card each to make up for it.

Though the fiasco was a few years ago now, the legacy of Galen Weston Jr. and his father as price gougers lives on, especially as Canadians have been dealing with record inflation at grocery store checkouts while Loblaws reports record profits — something that is also now being investigated.

Alongside the ongoing look into grocery competition in Canada, a comparison is being drawn between the former Loblaw president and CEO (but current Board of Directors Chair of both Loblaw and George Weston Limited, as well as CEO of the latter) and another businessman who committed the same acts but faced harsher penalties.

Citizens are arguing that Weston execs likewise deserve some stronger retribution.

Food distribution researcher and professor Dr. Sylvain Charlebois has resurfaced the story of Christopher Lischewski, an American businessman who had to serve more than three years in jail and pay a $100,000 fine for his own price-fixing scheme while he was CEO of Bumble Bee Foods.

Lischewski was found guilty of manipulating canned tuna prices over the course of three years — far less time than the bread racket north of the border, and with a product that is consumed far less.

Many feel that the (lack of) consequences for Weston hardly fit the crime, and do not discourage the Loblaws brand or any others in our very narrow market from committing such nefarious acts of consumer deception and exploitation, as they very well may be already (or rather, still) doing.

As one person noted on Twitter, "It makes me sick, they made over 4 Billion in excess profit (if not more) and they got a slap on the wrist. It is practically an invitation to do it again."

People are also criticizing the Canadian government for allowing the sector to get to the state that it's at and not better fostering fair market competition, ensuring transparency and holding brands and their leaders accountable.

Now that Weston (or "our little disgrace," as some call him) was called to testify in front of the the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food on the topic of food price inflation and the Competition Bureau continues its deep dive into Loblaws and other grocers, perhaps there is hope for a more satisfying resolution to this saga.

A windfall tax is one of the remedies currently on the table.

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