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7 companies, including 3 major grocers, met to reach deals on bread price increases

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press | posted Thursday, Feb 1st, 2018

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Senior officers at Canada’s two largest bread wholesalers communicated directly to raise prices in lockstep, then met with five retailers, who accepted the hike on condition their competitors would as well, the federal competition watchdog alleges in court documents released Wednesday.

The Competition Bureau believes wholesalers Canada Bread Company Ltd. and George Weston Ltd., as well as grocers Loblaw Companies Ltd., Walmart Canada Corp., Sobeys Inc., Metro Inc. and Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. committed indictable offences under the Competition Act, according to the previously sealed information to obtain documents.

Canada Bread and George Weston’s senior officers agreed to boost bread prices in tandem, typically by seven cents, for more than a decade starting in 2001, the documents allege.

The suppliers then allegedly met individually with their retail customers to get their approval for the price hike.

The retailers agreed to the boost on the condition their competitors would as well to maintain a fixed price in the market.

“Further, the retailers demanded that the suppliers actively manage retail competition by co-ordinating retail prices for their respective fresh commercial bread products and ensuring pricing alignment amongst the retailers,” the documents read.

The pattern became colloquially known as the 7/10 convention, according to the documents — with a usual seven cent price increase at wholesale and 10 cent price bump for the consumer in stores.

In December, Loblaw and George Weston admitted they sparked the investigation when they approached the watchdog after becoming aware of an allegedly industry-wide arrangement to co-ordiante retail and wholesale prices of some packaged bread products from late 2001 to March 2015.

The two companies received immunity in exchange for their co-operation. The remaining five companies have previously said they’re co-operating with the investigation, and some have outright denied any wrongdoing.

Loblaw spokesman Kevin Groh said Wednesday the documents are “unequivocal.”

“We have admitted our role, and you cannot price fix alone,” he said, adding the company stands by its previous statements and the actions it has taken.

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