As the federal government calls on big grocery chains to find a solution to high food prices, a food researcher says recent talks between executives and politicians have shown some promise.

On Monday, top executives at Loblaw, Metro, Empire, Walmart and Costco met with Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to discuss ways to stabilize prices.

The meeting came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that he would ask the leading grocers to come up with a plan to stabilize prices by Oct. 9.

So far, it is unclear what steps the companies may take to stabilize high food costs. But the major grocery chains have been the target of criticism over the past year as Canadians face high costs for food amid sticky inflation.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said he believes the blame for persistently high food prices is being pointed in the wrong direction.

“When you look at the evidence I certainly fail to see any evidence of profiteering at all,” he told BNN Bloomberg in a television interview Tuesday. “If you look at the last couple years – with the exception of perhaps two quarters – most grocers were underwater when it comes to same-store food sales growth versus food inflation.”

Charlebois was in attendance for the government meetings and couldn’t divulge many details, but he called the meetings “way more constructive” than previous food inflation hearings.

During a parliamentary committee hearing in March, grocery CEOs argued they are not to blame for food inflation, instead noting that food prices are a global issue.

In June, Canada’s Competition Bureau recommended welcoming international grocers into the market and creating a strategy for online grocers as a way to boost competition in the industry.


Charlebois argued that the real issue is a lack of consumer trust.

“It’s hard to convince Canadians right now that grocers are doing a good job and they’re not profiteering, so you have to look at quick solutions and longer-term solutions,” he said.

An April survey from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab found 30.3 per cent of Canadians believe price gouging is the main reason for the rising prices.

One measure that could help to reassure the public would be giving more power to the Competition Bureau, including more powers to subpoena parties to testify, Charlebois suggested.

There may be relief on the horizon, however, as food inflation numbers from August show prices dropping and inching closer to Canada’s overall inflation figure.

Food inflation for the month rose 6.9 per cent year-over-year, compared to an 8.5 per cent increase in July.

“You can feel that things are actually quite calmer now,” Charlebois said.