We’ve Grown Accustomed to his Face

shopping carts aligned

My Gracefully and Frankly cohost Erin Davis nailed it when she said Loblaws never should have put then-CEO Galen Weston out front as the “face” of the brand.

The marketing ploy was a disaster and it also humanized the Loblaws conglomerate. It gave people a real man to hate for getting richer off overpriced chicken. And I think the fallout is playing out this month with a Loblaws boycott.

Can you name the CEO of Metro Inc.? Sobeys? But if I say Loblaws, Canadians immediately get a mental picture of billionaire Galen Weston Jr. trying to seem like a regular guy. He fired up the barbecue in TV commercials, advised us about in-store safety measures during the pandemic, and touted various products he supposedly loved. He isn’t CEO anymore but he basically put a target on his own back.

Faceless Millionaires

Metro’s President and CEO is Eric R. La Flèche. His annual salary is reported at around $5-million. At Sobey’s parent company Empire, Michael B. Medline is in charge. In 2022, his salary was reported at $6.8-million. Galen Weston Jr. received $11.8-million. (Loblaws replaced Weston with current CEO, Per Bank, who recieved $22.1-million in compensation last year.)

I wouldn’t know La Fleche or Medline or Bank if we were taking the same elevator. They’re wisely staying in the background unless they need to venture out front for applause from shareholders.

I suspect that why Loblaws alone is the target of a grocery boycott for the month of May. Because it seems clear that they’re all raking in the profits. Lately, I’ve seen so many young couples and other shoppers moving through grocery aisles with a calculator in hand. On a recent early morning shopping trip, there were about two dozen customers in the store and one-quarter of them were doing math on the go. People don’t do this for fun. They do it when money is tight and they are trying to get by.

Let me clearly say that every one of these companies and leaders are gross. I’m not defending any of them. They’re all greedy and that’s my point.

Boycotting Loblaws means staying out of No Frills, Valu-Mart, Zehrs. Shoppers Drug Mart and Superstores, to name a few. Metro has Food Basics and others. Sobeys has Foodland, Fresh Co., IGA and others. Walmart delivers much lower prices on canned and packaged goods. Small Mom and Pop produce stands tend to have more locally grown food. Giant Tiger has gone all-in on the grocery game. Dollarama even stocks food items. We have alternatives. If you really want to land a punch, boycott all the biggies. Otherwise, I don’t see the point.

Unit Pricing

On a recent Blocks podcast, David Cross was talking about differences between himself and his wife, Amber Tamblyn. According to Cross, she doesn’t pay much attention to prices. David always checks the price tag for the cost-per-100g number. It’s on every price sticker in every grocery store and has been for many years. I always check it, too, because the seemingly more expensive item might actually cost less per unit.

We have the Flipp app and flyers and price-matching and other weapons at our disposal. They don’t solve the problem of stupid profits but neither, in my view, will a targeted boycott. And I hope with all my heart that I’m wrong.

Grocery stores use all sorts of tactics to keep us distracted so we don’t notice when we’re paying more. My husband came home with some bacon one day and I asked, how much it was. “It was on sale”, he said proudly. I do 95% of the grocery shopping and I know that simply being on sale is essentially meaningless. But I also know he’s not alone. I mistakenly bought a smaller than usual pie shell – thank you shrinkflation. I had pie filling left over because I didn’t notice. Grocery chains are counting on it. CEOs are paying for their yachts because of it.

The federal government has been trying to get the grocery giants to sign onto a Code of Conduct. Loblaws and Walmart have been holdouts. If it happens, it will need to make a tangible difference to prices or Canadians simply won’t care.

Reality Bites

Costs do legitimately rise from time to time. of course. But groceries aren’t designer shirts or high-end cars. We have to eat to live. Make a profit, sure, but don’t be obscene.

It reminds me of my least favourite thing about the TV shows Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank. The inventor of a widget tells the sharks he can make the thing for $2 but he sells it for $30. After hard costs he makes $23 per item. Bravo! say the sharks. Because in that room, profit is king. (Arlene Dickinson might be the only one to object.)

But what if the inventor priced the widget at $15? He’d still make $8 profit on each one but sell a lot more of them. The cost of production could even go down. No one seems to care about that. Setting a goal of getting the most possible money out of consumers doesn’t make sense to me. I guess I simply don’t understand greed.

You can’t legislate kindness or compassion in a capitalist society. Each of those CEOs (and former CEOs) had the option to say, no thank you, pay me less money. Who needs several million per year? Trickle it down the line to the vegetable aisle. Pay our workers a little more and charge a little less for lettuce. But not one of them did. Or ever will.

Why is Loblaws being singled out when the others are just as guilty? I really think it’s because we are familiar with its face.

13 thoughts on “We’ve Grown Accustomed to his Face”

  1. One minor note on your comments. People who wonder around with their phones out aren’t necessarily calculating prices or totalling their food costs. My son keeps his grocery list in his phone rather than on paper. In fact his kids have been known to add to it without his knowledge. They simply say “Alexa, add such and such to the grocery list”. He finds the item there when in the grocery aisle, much to his surprise.

    1. That’s a great point, Debbie. I guess I should have been more specific, but the couples that I saw were actually leaning over and doing calculations. But of course I shop with my phone too. Thank you!

  2. Wars create shortages in grains which increase the costs to produce feed which increases the cost of cattle farmers to feed their herd so they reduce the number of head and increase the value on the remaining which they then sell to the processor at a higher price for less product so there processing costs go up which then get passsed down to the shipper and then to the front line stores and you the consumer.

    The grocery stores are at the end of the chain.

    Want to point fingers? Point them at Russia, for Ukraine is one of the largest producers of grains.

    It worked for Dave Nichol and the President’s Choice!

    1. We can point a couple of fingers that way, for sure. But we need to reserve a few – maybe a middle one? – for sheer greed. Thanks, Allan.

  3. There are certain PC brand specific items that I buy at No Frills. My pickup order, usually over $100 each week, is sitting at $50 or so this week, and I’m using PC points to pay for the items. I will carefully support our local produce, dairy and meat stores this month. And also work at eating from the freezer and pantry better. When you see that the employees of the grocery stores have to fight to earn a living wage, while those at the top are raking in millions, it is sheer corporate greed.

    1. I hear that, Debbie. I’ve also made more of an effort to “shop” in my pantry and freezer. There might be some good things that come out of this, after all.

  4. Allan beat me to it: Galen Weston is no Dave Nichol!

    The guy who replaced Weston is Per Bank. His last name is literally Bank, a gift from the comedy gods to the Beaverton.

  5. I wonder if what really ticked a lot of people off is when Loblaw changed their policy on discounts for food nearing or very close to the best before/expiry date from 50% to 30% while making huge profits. Next thing – changed the policy back to 50%, supposedly. However, at the No Frills in my area, it seems to depend on the product. I have never noticed a 30% discount until this year and I have lived in the same area since 1980. It was always 50%. It just makes things much harder for an awful lot of people.

    1. I wasn’t aware of this, Pam. Thanks for mentioning it. That would make a big difference, for sure.

  6. I am doing my best to boycott them for this month. Sorry, why did no-name chips also shrink, and go UP in price? They are over profiting at this point, and consumers are being blamed for not wanting to pay outrageous prices. Give me a break!

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