Court Park is a thrifty shopper who scans grocery store flyers every week and waits for certain items to go on sale before adding them to her shopping list.
So he was disappointed Wednesday to see in his grocer’s brochure that the price of No Name bagels would apparently increase by four cents from Oct. 26 to Oct. 27, despite Loblaw Companies Limited announcing a price freeze on all No Name products starting in October. 17 – 31.1.2023.
“It’s just confusing to me how you can tell us you’re going to freeze the price, but it’s going up,” Park told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Thursday. “A fixed price should be a locked price.”
SALE PRICES WILL NOT REMAIN
A comparison of No Frills flyers for the weeks of October 20 and October 27 showed that the cost of other No Name products, such as marshmallows, had also increased from flyer to flyer.
No Name is one of three company-owned private label brands sold in its Loblaws, Zehrs, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Fortinos, Atlantic Superstore, Maxi, Your Independent Grocer and Shoppers Drug Mart stores. Other brands include President’s Choice and Joe Fresh.
When made aware of the apparent price increases, a Loblaw spokesperson explained the differences apply only to the promotional prices of the products in question, not their regular prices.
“We understand that our customers are excited about the price freeze and the predictability it means for them,” Catherine Thomas, director of communications for Loblaw Companies Limited, said in an email to CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “For the sake of clarity, we have frozen the normal prices of all No Name products. We continue to add value through sales, but customers can be sure that the Normal price will not increase.”
PRICES VARY BY STORE
Avid bargain hunters may also have noticed that No Name products vary in price at No Frills stores and stores like Loblaws and Your Independent Grocer. For example, a bag of six No Name bagels at No Frills is $1.79 this week, while the same bag is $2.79 at Loblaws, or $2.50 if a shopper buys two or more.
That’s because the company sets higher prices for some products at serviced stores such as bakery, deli and meat counters. In stores that do not offer the same level of service, the prices of the same products may be lower.
“No Frills offers a smaller selection of products (and) fewer in-store services — like butchers, for example — to keep prices as low as possible,” Thomas wrote. “And yes, the Regular Price of No Name products has been frozen at all of our retail locations, including Loblaws.”
Still, Park would like more transparency in the pricing of No Name products covered by the price freeze. For example, he said an index of all frozen fares would have saved him the aggravation of comparing flight deals this week.
“Being a consumer is definitely confusing because things are the way they are right now in our economic situation. Everyone wants to save money and get the best deal possible,” he said.
“When people are confused, it’s easy to pull the wool over their eyes, and yes, there’s not much faith in grocery stores right now.”
Retail analyst Bruce Winder says many Canadians have shared Park’s mistrust of grocers in recent years, and especially during the pandemic.
“It’s just unbelievable to me how strained the relationship is between the big grocers, especially Loblaws, and Canadians,” Winder told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Thursday.
“There’s no confidence. I think it’s just a culmination of where we’ve been over the last few years.”
The public image of major grocers took a hit in 2017 after Canada’s competition agency launched an investigation into allegations that Canada Bread Co. and Weston Foods Canada Inc. colluded with major grocers Loblaw, Sobeys Inc., Metro Inc., Walmart Canada Corp.: n and Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. keeps the price of bread in Canada artificially high for 16 years. The office confirmed in an email to CTVNews.ca on Friday that the investigation is ongoing and no charges have been filed.
The pandemic and subsequent inflation have not helped to improve the relationship between Canadians and major grocers such as Loblaw Companies Limited, Sobeys Inc. and Metro Inc.
“With inflation and Canadians suffering so much, the profits that the big three (grocers) have enjoyed during these difficult times has created an us-versus-them relationship between consumers and grocers,” Winder said.
In defense of grocers, Thomas said retail may be the face of inflation, but it is not the cause.
“Understandably, people are concerned about their grocery bills and not looking for excuses. But the price on our shelf represents many costs and many companies further up the supply chain,” he wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Friday. “However, we are doing what we can, including freezing No Name rates, lowering many others, and giving away over $1 billion in loyalty points.”
He argued that grocery has always been “one of the most reliable industries in Canada and we don’t think that has changed.”
If Loblaw did raise the prices of No Name products after announcing the price freeze, Winder said the company would not be breaking any laws. Consumers would have no recourse, but a common law court could carry a lot of weight, especially when trust in grocers is already so low, he said.
Someone who suspects that a food product has been incorrectly priced or that a grocer has fraudulently raised the price of the product can raise a discussion about it on social media, Winder said. But if they just want clarification or a refund, they can contact Ruokakauppa’s customer service.
“It depends on how seriously the customer wants to take it,” Winder said.
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