Posters promoting ‘Steal From Loblaws Day’ are circulating. How did we get here?

Click to play video: 'Loblaws boycott picks up steam as resentment grows online'
Loblaws boycott picks up steam as resentment grows online
There is growing resentment online as Loblaw becomes the lightning rod for anger across the country, posting record profits year after year while Canadians struggle to feed their families with the rising cost of living. – Apr 26, 2024

Posters encouraging people to “Steal From Loblaws” popped up last week across Toronto and have been gaining steam online, drawing mixed reactions from Canadians.

The posters for the “first annual Steal From Loblaws Day” invite customers to rob retail grocery chains owned by Loblaw, including the Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Fortinos and T&T, and suggests that 2024 could be just the start of this proposed illegal protest, with the inclusion of “first annual.”

No organizers of the May 12 event have come forward to claim responsibility for the posters.

Canadians seem split on whether to support such a protest — which blatantly flies in the face of the law — underscoring the deep frustration Canadians have for the rising cost of food.

Click to play video: 'Higher grocery bill? Here’s why some prices in Canada may be rising — again'
Higher grocery bill? Here’s why some prices in Canada may be rising — again

“Every day should be steal from Loblaws day,” wrote a user on X (formerly Twitter).

Story continues below advertisement

Justifying the protest, another X user wrote that “grocers are blatantly stealing from consumers in creative new ways without government intervention.”

“You brought all this on yourself,” another post reads.

Others are shocked that Canadians would resort to stealing to send a point to Loblaw.

“This is NOT the way to protest,” one writes.

Click to play video: 'Consumers gear up for Loblaw boycott as petition for investigation gains traction'
Consumers gear up for Loblaw boycott as petition for investigation gains traction
“Whether or not the company involved can afford the loss is irrelevant and certainly doesn’t give anyone license [sic] to steal. What kind of example is this setting for kids? Theft is theft,” another X post reads.

In a statement to Global News, Loblaw called the protest “dangerous and irresponsible” and said that the company is “well-prepared to manage any potential disruption to our customers’ shopping experience.”

Story continues below advertisement

“We certainly understand food affordability is an important issue affecting all of us, and we’ll continue to do everything we can, from lowering prices and making meaningful changes to our business, to help customers save money in our stores,” the statement added.

Promotion of the Steal From Loblaws Day comes as the grocery giant also faces an upcoming boycott in the month of May. That protest originated from a Reddit forum called “Loblaws is Out of Control.” Boycott organizer Emily Johnson slammed Loblaw in an interview with Global News for raising prices and contributing to the cost of living crisis.

Click to play video: 'Will the proposed Loblaw boycott reap any rewards?'
Will the proposed Loblaw boycott reap any rewards?

As for the boycott, Loblaw says it is “going to keep working hard to deliver on our commitment to value” and to “rebuild” trust with customers.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

“As a business, we are acutely aware of the fact that we have to win our customers’ business each and every day. The last few years have been tough for Canadians, and we continue to do what we can to combat inflation at our stores,” the company added.

Story continues below advertisement

Johnson told the Daily Hive that boycott organizers do not support Steal From Loblaws Day and “explicitly condemn this kind of behaviour.”

There’s no stated motivation behind Steal From Loblaws Day included on the posters, but for many Canadians, the reason is clear.

Loblaw has become the face of food inflation in Canada — a fact that the company itself acknowledged in an X post — as the company continues to post record profits year-after-year while Canadians struggle to feed their families.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Canadian food banks on the brink: ‘This is not a sustainable situation’'
Canadian food banks on the brink: ‘This is not a sustainable situation’

In particular, Loblaw has faced sustained backlash due to a high-profile scandal and numerous unpopular business decisions.

Early this year, Loblaw changed course on a much-maligned decision to no longer offer a 50 per cent discount on items nearing expiry, instead offering a 30 per cent discount. The company said it reversed the decision after listening to customer feedback.

In similar fashion, Loblaw and Manulife reversed course on a planned partnership that would force Manulife patients to fill their speciality drug prescriptions from Loblaw-owned pharmacies, or else their purchases would not be covered.

But the big scandal came in 2017, when Loblaw admitted to a price-fixing scheme to charge Canadians more for bread over a period of 16 years. In exchange for their cooperation with investigators, Loblaw and the now-defunct Weston Foods received immunity from prosecution.

Story continues below advertisement

“Nobody went to jail. Nobody paid a fine. The investigation is ongoing,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “So when I see people protesting, what I see are consumers feeling utterly unprotected.”

“That really, to me, would legitimize any protest, but not breaking the law,” he added in an interview with Global News.

(Charlebois disclosed that Dalhousie University received a $60,000 grant from the Weston Family Foundation, a charitable foundation run by the family that owns Loblaw, in 2017. He says that money was given to him and used to fund an international student in his lab.)

Charlebois supports a boycott, but he thinks the current month-long boycott targeting Loblaw doesn’t go far enough.

“I would organize a boycott against all grocers, not just one, because food prices have gone up everywhere, not just at Loblaw.”

Story continues below advertisement

Canada is home to three major grocery conglomerates — Loblaw, Metro and Empire, which owns Sobeys — who have been steadily increasing their profit margins on food over the past five years.

That fact was discovered last year by the Competition Bureau when it issued a report calling for more competition in the grocery market, linking higher prices at the checkout with a lack of meaningful options for Canadian food shopping.

“Canada needs solutions to help bring grocery prices in check,” the study said. “More competition is a key part of the answer.”

However, the Bureau’s report stopped short of accusing the big three grocers of illegal profiteering or “greedflation.”

Click to play video: '‘Greedflation’ at the grocery store explained'
‘Greedflation’ at the grocery store explained

Charlebois’ Agri-Food Analytics Lab contributed to the Competition Bureau report. He told Global News that he also does not see evidence of grocery conglomerates engaging in profiteering, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t “blameless.”

Story continues below advertisement

“Right now there’s a bit of a rat race going on. Loblaws is the bully. Walmart is the bully. They turn around and they basically dictate the rules within the supply chain,” Charlebois says.

He explains that when suppliers, like PepsiCo for instance, want to sell their products to places like Loblaw, these grocery companies charge marketing fees, shelf space fees, flier fees, etc. All these extra costs add up, and suppliers end up raising the cost of their products to pass the buck to consumers.

“That’s why the agri-food sector is very different than other sectors. You have to pay your customers to do business with them,” Charlebois notes. “That’s why retailers have so much power in Canada.”

So when Loblaw says they are raising prices because suppliers are charging more, that’s only part of the story.

In the U.K. and Australia, a grocery code of conduct exists to stop retailers from burdening suppliers with excessive costs. Suppliers can dispute contentious charges with an independent reviewer.

In Canada, a grocery code of conduct has been in the works since 2021, but so far, Loblaw and Walmart Canada have refused to sign on.

The committee working on the grocery code was convened in response to complaints from food suppliers being saddled with questionable charges by grocery retailers. Because of the lack of competition in the grocery retailer industry, suppliers don’t have significant bargaining power to dispute these charges.

Story continues below advertisement

It remains to be seen if the boycott against Loblaw will have a meaningful impact on its revenue come May, or if any Canadians will dare to steal from the grocery giant on May 12.

Sponsored content