A grocery basket full of fruits and vegetables can cost almost half as much in a chain of greengrocers as in a large supermarket, reveals a comparison carried out by The Journal.
A shopping list of 18 common items, such as potatoes, onions and grapes, cost us $37.09 at a branch of Fruiterie 440 in Longueuil, compared to $65.08 at a Metro supermarket in Montreal. An impressive difference of $27.99 in favor of the fruit shop.
During the purchases, made at the beginning of the week, we made sure to obtain the same articles, therefore of similar quality and provenance, avoiding specials, to allow a valid comparison.
Fruiterie 440 has four branches, three of which are in the Montreal area and one in Quebec City, and sells only fruits and vegetables.
“I am agape. I did not expect the difference to be so big,” said DT Cochrane, an economist attached to the Canadian organization for fair taxation, in an interview.
For him, it is obvious that supermarket chains take advantage of a pool of captive consumers to set prices as they please.
“These large chains take advantage of consumer habits,” says- he.
“Most of us,” he adds, “don't check every day which place has the best prices. It's easier to always go to a place that sells all sorts of different things. »
Mr Cochrane is not the only one to be surprised at the high price of food in supermarkets. Members of the House of Commons have recently considered the subject by denouncing the greed of the big chains (see other text).
Called to react, Metro supports, after verification , that the fruits and vegetables purchased at the fruit store would be “of different specifications and categories even if at first sight, one can think that they are the same product”. This is indicated in an email by the spokesperson for the channel, Geneviève Grégoire.
Geneviève Grégoire< /strong> Metro Spokesperson
This difference in category would largely explain the price difference favorable to Fruiterie 440, according to Ms. Grégoire.
Gold , some of the products we have sourced, such as the bagged radishes, come from the exact same producer and contain the same quantity (see opposite).
In the case of the yellow potatoes that we bought, they are, in both cases, 5-pound bags, produced in Quebec and bearing the mention Canada no 1.
According to Sophie Perreault , CEO of the Quebec Fruit and Vegetable Distribution Association, these price differences can also be explained by the greater flexibility enjoyed by fruit stores when purchasing.
Agreements to long term
Because of the large volumes and the need for guaranteed supplies, the big chains have to enter into long-term agreements.
“The fruit store can buy almost every day. It is on the lookout, for example, for the end of batches, deals, products perhaps of category number two; shelf life is also a less predominant factor. It can make a big difference for prices,” she points out.
For his part, Professor Sylvain Charlebois, an expert in distribution and agri-food policies at Dalhousie University, notes that the biases favorable to fruit stores have always existed.
“It is a question of convenience. By going to the Metro supermarket in your neighborhood, you save time and money,” he says. It is for this reason that the prices of fruits and vegetables are higher there.
It was impossible to reach the owner of Fruiterie 440, Denis Demers, for his comments.
Lack of competition from large chains
Competition in the food industry in Canada is failing, which worries experts and politicians alike.
The sector is dominated by three major players : Metro, Loblaw and Empire (Sobeys), which have multiplied banners and acquisitions.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have recorded solid growth in sales and profits . The inflation crisis did not negatively affect their results. On the contrary.
DT Cochrane< /strong> Economist
“In economist parlance, this is called an oligopoly, when a small number of players control an entire industry,” says DT Cochrane.
“The argument in favor of corporate concentration, continues the economist, is supposedly the economies of scale and better efficiency that this allows. Consumers should be the beneficiaries of this efficiency and not the big chains. »
Take advantage of the crisis
In the House of Commons, we go further. The NDP, in presenting its unanimously adopted motion to ask the Competition Bureau to investigate the sector, accuses them of having taken advantage of the inflation crisis to make even more money.
They allegedly abused “their dominant position in a market to exploit buyers or agricultural producers,” the motion says.
In the United States, we are also taking up the issue of concentration food chains seriously. The market, however, is more fragmented there than in Canada.
There are a greater number of players, including strong regional chains, such as Publix in Florida.
< p>When the major national chain Kroger announced its intention to acquire the Albertsons chain for $24.6 billion in mid-October, it immediately encountered opposition from the Biden administration and had to obtain the approval from the US Competition Bureau for the transaction to go ahead.
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Katrine Johns has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Gal Post, Katrine Johns worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my email@example.com 1-800-268-7128