Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Is the Loblaw boycott privileged? Here’s why some people aren’t shopping around | CBC News

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Location. Costs. Time and convenience.

There are many reasons that people aren’t participating in the Loblaw boycott, a movement fuelled by customers fed up with high prices at the grocery retailer.

The boycott was started by a Reddit group with about 70,000 members called “Loblaws is out of control.” It calls for shoppers to avoid the retailer’s Loblaws stores, along with its offshoot brands, such as No Frills, Atlantic Superstore and Shoppers Drug Mart, throughout May.

It comes as Loblaw and other major grocers such as Sobeys and Metro have faced intense scrutiny for reporting higher profits as some Canadians struggle to pay for food. On Wednesday, Loblaw reported its quarterly profit was $459 million, marking a 9.8 per cent increase.

Kirsten Marzitelli, 30, of Ottawa, said she considered participating in the boycott, but that the price matching at No Frills — a subsidiary of Loblaw — is one of the very few things keeping her grocery bill manageable.

And there’s also the matter of time, she told CBC News.

WATCH | Why people are boycotting Loblaws: 

Frustrated shoppers boycott Loblaw stores for month of May

Canadians frustrated with rising groceries prices have pledged to boycott Loblaw-owned stores for the month of May. On the same day it was set to begin, Canada’s largest grocer reported a nearly 10 per cent increase in profits.

“With a two- and three-year-old at home, I just don’t have the time to go to all of these different stores. I need as few stops as possible,” Marzitelli said.

Boycotts are for people with privilege and time, said Shawn Chandler, who lives in Wallaceburg, Ont., a town of about 12,000 people.

There are two grocery stores in the southwestern Ontario town about 50 kilometres south of Sarnia: No Frills and Walmart, Chandler, 52, told CBC News. There’s also a Shoppers Drug Mart, which carries some grocery items. 

Each week, Chandler’s wife goes through the flyers to look for the best deals, he said. And this week, that’s No Frills.

“I’m not going to spend more just to go to Walmart,” he said.

A man in a purple shirt stands with his arms crossed in a kitchen, holding a flyer that says No Frills.
Shawn Chandler, of Wallaceburg, Ont., holds a No Frills flyer in his home on Friday. There are two grocery stores in Wallaceburg, and he shops wherever is less expensive that week. (Submitted by Shawn Chandler)

Weston pushes back on ‘misguided criticism’

Loblaw chairman Galen Weston, as well as the company’s new chief executive, pushed back Thursday on what they called “misguided criticism” of the grocer as the boycott gained steam online. While the movement started on Reddit, it gained traction on other social media platforms like X, formerly Twitter, and TikTok, and has made headlines coast to coast.

“As a well-known company and Canada’s largest grocer, it is natural that Loblaw would be singled out as a focal point for media and government and of course consumer frustrations,” Weston said at the grocer’s annual meeting.

He said although shareholders “may be troubled by these often-repeated stories,” they should be assured that Loblaw will continue to act with integrity.

President and CEO Per Bank said there’s a lot of misinformation online about Loblaw, and reiterated the company is not responsible for higher food prices. Inflation is a global issue, he added. Canadians are under pressure and frustrated, said Bank.

The Reddit group’s founder, Emily Johnson, told CBC News Network Wednesday that the boycott focuses on Loblaw because it has the largest market share.

Loblaw is a massive company, extending into groceries, as well as pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, financial services and wireless mobile products and services.

According to a July 2023 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Loblaw had 27 per cent of the market share of Canadian grocery sales in 2021, followed by Sobeys at 19 per cent and Metro at 11 per cent.

A loblaws  store pictured from the parking lot in the evening
A Loblaws supermarket is pictured in Ottawa on Nov. 14, 2017. Loblaw had 27 per cent of the market share of Canadian grocery sales in 2021, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report last year. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

“Our community felt that it was not the only problem, but definitely the biggest one,” Johnson said.

In a previous interview with CBC News, she said she recognizes that Loblaw’s market share leaves some people without many other shopping options. For them, the group has posted a list of other ways people can get involved, including writing a letter to their MP and donating time or money to food banks.  

In Canada’s North, for instance, where high food prices are away of life, choices are even more limited. The Loblaw boycott came up in a Yukon subreddit with 15,000 members last month. The original poster asked if people planned to participate, and most of the 30 people who responded said no.

“I gotta eat. I understand the point of the boycott but there’s no viable alternative here and food isn’t exactly optional,” one person wrote.

“The other grocers in town are even more expensive. No chance,” wrote another.

‘Really comes down to convenience’

Vanessa Baker-Murray, a lawyer living in Ottawa, said she wanted to participate in the boycott, and that she supports the idea behind it. It’s the kind of thing she would have done when she was younger, she said (and in fact, she and her husband participated in a boycott of Dunnes grocery stores when they lived in Dublin in 2015).

But now, she has a young child and she and her husband both work full-time. She said a boycott just isn’t as feasible as it was when her father-in-law used to drive them further afield in Dublin just to avoid the local chain.

A man, woman and toddler pose in a  portrait
Vanessa Baker-Murray, centre, Aidan Baker-Murray, left, and their child are pictured in Ottawa. Vanessa says convenience keeps her from participating in the Loblaw boycott. (Submitted by Vanessa Baker-Murray)

“It really comes down to convenience. I don’t shop at Loblaws because I love the store particularly, but it’s very close to us, the pickup is so easy, we’re on a schedule,” Baker-Murray said.

“I hate supporting that and I hate supporting the companies, but it’s just so hard to break out of that routine and to know that you have to go to multiple stores, potentially, and it’s just so much more time.”

Paul Landry, 75, said he’s not participating for a few reasons. First, there are only two major grocery stores close to him in Stratford, P.E.I., and one is an Atlantic Superstore.

Second, he said he doesn’t believe the boycott will actually make a difference for food prices.

“Overall, Loblaw’s prices are very high, not unlike the other major food retailer here, Sobeys. When these stores display two steaks for $76.97 or a lesser cut for $45.95, it’s a problem for most Canadians,” Landry said.

“What are these cattle being fed — gold dust? Prices will not decrease until they are forced to by government action.”

Marzitelli said she feels the boycott is “absolutely privileged,” noting that she already doesn’t shop at Loblaws, Your Independent Grocer or Shoppers Drug Mart because of the high prices. No Frills is her best option, even if it’s Loblaw-owned, she said.

“I feel like the only people who are actually able to commit to the boycott don’t have a family of mouths to feed or weren’t hurting that badly to begin with.”

WATCH | Nova Scotians participate in the boycott: 

Why these Nova Scotians say they won’t shop at Superstore this month

Thousands of Canadians are boycotting grocery giant Loblaw this month to protest the cost of groceries. The company operates Atlantic Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart and No Frills. Paul Palmeter has the story.

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