loblaws boycott

Canadian retail expert thinks Loblaws boycott could actually work

As a customer boycott against Loblaw nears, one retail analyst says consumers have the opportunity to send the company a message with their pledge to stop shopping at its stores.

Bruce Winder told Daily Hive that this boycott against Loblaw has been both "interesting and unusual" to witness.

"This seems to have a bit more momentum behind it based on the Reddit group… I have a feeling this might be a little larger than we're used to in terms of company boycotts," he said.

The boycott was initiated by the "Loblaws Is Out of Control" Reddit community, which has grown to 44,000 members.

The boycott involves all Loblaw-owned stores, including Real Canadian Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart, and No Frills.

Boycott gains steam

The main rules for the boycott are for Canadians to stop shopping at Loblaw-owned stores for May (and beyond). If shopping occurs at Loblaw stores, customers should focus on "loss leaders" — a business strategy that involves selling a product at a price that isn't profitable to the company but does help attract new customers or sell additional products to shoppers.

Members of the Loblaws Is Out of Control group are asking the company to reduce its prices by 15 per cent and remove "member-only pricing," where customers are forced to sign up for a PC Optimum card to access deals and sales.

Since news of the boycott made headlines in March, it has gained steam, with many speaking out about how they've already stopped shopping at the company's stores or acknowledging that they would be joining in on the mass action.

Winder said that depending on how many consumers follow through with their pledge to boycott, it could potentially "put [Loblaw's] feet to the fire."

He highlighted how customer pushback likely led Loblaw to walk back its decision to end its 50 per cent discount on nearly-expired items earlier this year.

"They seemed to pick up the messaging there and read the room," he said.

Do customers have the power?

It remains to be seen if the grocery giant will respond to news or potential impacts of the May boycott.

Loblaw hasn't officially acknowledged customers' plans to take action but did release a statement in March claiming that it's "making efforts to lower food inflation."

However, shoppers have continued questioning and calling out Loblaw on its pricing strategies.

Customers also expressed anger and frustration earlier this week when they learned that Loblaw Companies Ltd.'s new CEO, Per Bank, pocketed a whopping $22.1 million in 2023.

Winder noted that while the country's grocery industry has been under pressure since the pandemic, Loblaw has become "the poster child" for the anger Canadians feel about high food prices.

He added that other grocery companies should watch carefully because customers do have the power to boycott them next.

"This could become more of a movement against companies… the whole industry as a whole has potential for some change here as this thing plays out."

The government also has a role to play in taking action against high food prices, Winder added.

Food industry experts have noted that the industry-led Grocery Code of Conduct is one of the most important measures the federal government and the country's grocers need to take.

While it looked like the code was close to being implemented by the end of 2023, there have been delays.

Winder said the main indicator of whether or not Loblaw will acknowledge the boycott is if they see a drop in sales and profits.

"That would get their attention… that really sends the message," he said.

"But certainly Loblaw is monitoring this right now, I'm sure, thinking about how to approach what to do. It's new terrain, but if the needle moves on the financial side, it's going to get the attention of a lot of people very quickly."

With files from Isabelle Docto.

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