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“It’s never been more expensive to sell groceries,” Loblaw spokesperson Catherine Thomas said in October. “We are making massive investments, $6-billion worth, to improve how we do it. But we’re also facing significant new costs, including unprecedented cost-increase demands from our suppliers.”
In a major development late last month, Sobeys’ parent company Empire Co. Ltd.publicly criticized its competitors over the new fees and endorsed the campaign for a code of conduct.
“Taken to the extreme, some of these behaviours are just plain bad for Canada,” Empire chief executive Michael Medline said. “It’s time that we got together as an industry and had a set of very simple, value-driven ground rules so that we don’t get in this mess and that we have a very healthy food supply chain.”
Loblaw also drew heavy public criticism for cutting the $2-per-hour pandemic pay bonuses for its front-line staff on the same day as its two main competitors, Empire and Metro Inc., during a lull in COVID-19 infections in June.
Empirewas also criticized for raising its shareholder dividend shortly after cutting employees’ bonus pay. As COVID-19 cases surge in Canada, Loblaw could be courting the same controversy with its dividend increase.
Thomas, at Loblaw, noted the company has consistently raised dividends annually over the past nine years.
“Increases were paused earlier in the year due to very large investments in colleague and customer safety. The dividend increase occurred in spite of continued major investments in safety and security,” she said. “After making the conscious decision to delay any dividend increase through the early part of the pandemic, Loblaw is now returning to its normal business practice. The company remains absolutely committed to its investments in colleague and customer well-being. Any suggestion of profiteering is untrue and ignores the facts.”