Top executives from Canada's major grocery chains met with two federal cabinet ministers on Monday for "difficult discussions" to talk about measures to stabilize grocery prices.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne met with executives from Loblaw, Metro, Empire, Walmart and Costco this morning.
"They have agreed to support the government of Canada in our efforts to stabilize food prices in Canada," Champagne said.
Calling the meetings historic and constructive, Champagne said he told the grocery CEOs "in no uncertain terms" that Canadians expect them to take action.
Speaking in French, Champagne said the companies will now need to develop concrete individual plans to stabilize prices.
"Now you want to let them compete against each other so Canadians can see the benefits of competition," he said.
Grocery prices rose 8.5 per cent year-over-year in July, showing a slight easing of price growth but still running much hotter than overall inflation at 3.3 per cent.
The Retail Council of Canada said in a statement last week that grocer prices profits have nothing to do with the rising cost of food, pointing instead to higher costs being passed on from food manufacturers and producers.
Empire CEO Michael Medline told reporters on Monday afternoon the meeting was "very productive," but did not answer questions about whether it will actually lead to lower prices.
Nor would Metro CEO Eric La Flèche.
"We're all committed to finding solutions to stabilize prices and bring down the (consumer price index) on the food side," he said, calling high prices an "industry issue."
When pressed by reporters about whether prices will come down, La Flèche said "prices fluctuate every week in our industry," and noted that the discussions were about consumer packaged goods rather than fresh foods such as produce, dairy and meat.
Champagne said stabilization is needed because food prices have risen more than inflation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week that the federal government is asking major Canadian grocers to come up with a plan by Thanksgiving to stabilize prices.
Trudeau warned that if the plan is not good enough, Ottawa will take further action — and the government is not ruling anything out, including tax measures.
Champagne said food inflation is a global issue, and noted that the government is speaking with its French and British counterparts about how to respond.
The French government reached a three-month agreement with supermarket chains for them to cut prices on hundreds of staples and other foods, which is expected to be extended through the summer. Britain — where food inflation has reached 45-year highs — is discussing a similar move.
Other European countries have mandated price controls for staple foods.
"We've been following what Carrefour has been doing in France, and even shaming in public those who don't want to be part of the solution," said Champagne, adding that if CEOs don't want to co-operate, he will take his message to the grocers' boards.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press.
Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press