Alberta NDP want answers from grocery chains over inflation concerns

Alberta’s Opposition wants answers from two national grocery store chains as some staple food prices increased well above inflation rates in the last year.

The provincial NDP sent a letter to the top executives at Loblaws and Empire asking for an “immediate discussion” to make life more affordable for Albertans, saying the province faces the highest rate of inflation among major Canadian provinces.

“Recent reports indicate that prices for some groceries being charged in your stores have exceeded inflationary growth rates significantly,” wrote Rachel Notley in the letter, dated Aug. 24.

Along with the letter, Notley sent a “comprehensive list” of grocery prices being charged as of June this year at stores managed by Loblaws and Empire in Alberta at prices well-beyond inflation rates.

Loblaws Inc. oversees several supermarket brands, including Real Canadian Superstore, T&T Supermarket, No Frills, and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Sobeys, Safeway, and FreshCo are managed by Empire Company Limited.

In the letter, obtained by CTV News Edmonton, some year-over-price examples given by the Opposition include:

  • more than 30 per cent increase for things like vegetable oil, iceberg lettuce, and certain cuts of beef;
  • nearly 25 per cent increase in the price of bread; and
  • more than 20 per cent increase in the price of butter.

‘MISLEADING TO CUSTOMERS’

The Opposition leader noted that the province has the smallest share of independent grocery retailers compared to other Canadian provinces and that the two companies represent the most dominant grocery stores Albertans rely on.

“Albertans don’t understand why these prices are increasing,” Notley said. “There is little transparency.”

“At the same time, and relative to pre-pandemic levels, your companies have seen a significant expansion in your gross margins, and profitability levels overall continue to increase,” she added.

Catherine Thomas, Loblaws vice president communication, said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton that the company has received the letter and responded to the Opposition.

“The suggestion that grocery stores are taking advantage of inflation to drive profits is completely false and misleading to customers,” Thomas said. “We understand the challenges people are facing and work hard to ensure they find value in our stores every day.”

“(We) look forward to having our local leaders provide insights on our efforts.”

CTV News Edmonton reached out to Empire but has not received a comment.

As of June, the inflation rate in Alberta was pegged at around 8.1 per cent.

According to reporting by Statistics Canada and the province, the following food staples saw average prices higher than the inflation rate in June compared to the same time last year:

  • Mayonnaise (38.4%)
  • Romaine lettuce (37.4%)
  • Avocados (36.1%)
  • Cantaloupe (28.8%)
  • Ketchup (27.7%)
  • Onions (27.6%)
  • Dried lenses (23.4%)
  • Canned soup (23%)
  • Canned beans and lentils (21.7%)
  • Dry or fresh pasta (18.3%)
  • Deodorant (15.1%)

Certain products sold in Alberta by grocery retailers saw an average decline in price compared to June last year, including:

  • Cucumber (minus 14.5%)
  • Frozen broccoli (minus 10.8%)
  • Mushrooms (minus 9.3%)
  • Frozen corn (minus 8.7%)
  • Canned salmon (minus 7.7%)
  • Pork loin cuts (minus 7.3%)
  • Lemons (minus 5.2%)

Marie Renaud, NDP community and social services critic, said the Opposition is working to find solutions to help Albertans cope with surging inflation and find out why prices for many staples have increased significantly in the past year.

“People are struggling,” Renaud said. “People that don’t normally struggle are struggling and people that regularly struggle, things are almost impossible right now.”

“This is an effort by Rachel Notley really to set up a meeting to have a real honest discussion with these national corporations to say, hey what is going on, to look at this, (and ask) if this is price gauging.”

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Saif Kaisar

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