As Canadian grocery prices rise and questions about sustainability, supply chain logistics and food deserts and insecurity come to the forefront increasingly in recent years, the grocery segment of foodservice has also come under scrutiny. Issues that have made headlines in 2021 have included the cutting of pandemic pay to workers on the same day from three major Canadian grocery chains (which launched a study by the House of Commons and attention from the Competition Bureau) and a new supplier fee structure from Walmart Canada. A bread fixing scandal that came to light in 2017 involving Loblaw Companies Ltd., Walmart Canada Corp., Sobeys Inc., Metro Inc. and Giant Tiger Stores Ltd. that had been taking place over 14 years caused another Competition Bureau investigation, leading to Loblaws offering $25 gift cards to customers in an effort to apologize for the scandal and leading to calls for a code of conduct to govern the industry.
Today, several large associations within the foodservice industry announced the formation of the Canadian Food Industry Collaborative Alliance to provide “the framework for a collaborative and inclusive process through which industry stakeholders will design a Code of Practice and Oversight Framework that meets the unique needs of Canada’s food system,” according to a release. The member associations include the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Food and Beverage Canada, The Quebec Food Processing Council, Quebec Food Retailers Association, and Retail Council of Canada.
“Canada’s food system is unique. In Canada, no supply chain is subject to the same external pressures and uncertainty as is food,” reads the group’s proposal. “Facing consumer demand and changing preference on the one side, and impacted by a myriad of external forces beyond industry’s control – weather, transportation issues, trade disruptions, international trade agreements, and political events – on the other; producers, processors, and retailers must manage through these elements while ensuring a stable and affordable food supply.”
The goals of the proposed Canadian Food Industry Code of Practice include ensuring best practice reciprocity throughout the supply chain, equitable distribution of food supply and transparency and contractual certainty in all commercial transactions.
“We are all committed to supporting a strong food supply chain in Canada and ensuring that small, mid, and large companies can continue to grow within the food sector,” said Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, told The Canadian Press. “There’s been a lot of coverage of some of the disputes between very large grocers and large (consumer packaged goods) manufacturers. There’s been a proposal about a regulated code and so we decided as a group of associations to come together and see if we could find a solution that would bring everybody to the table to discuss what needs to be fixed.”
Notably, the proposal also includes support for “small and mid-sized parties to commercial transactions” — a sticking point in a previous attempt at a code of conduct with Empire Company Ltd. in March.
Other countries have successfully implemented similar codes of conducts before. The UK developed Groceries Supply Code of Practice has been in place since 2009, and Australia’s Food and Grocery Code of Conduct began in 2015. Although these codes are voluntary best practices, the Canadian Food Industry Collaborative Alliance is recommending that the proposed Canadian code involve some needed enforcement. “The Code of Practice must also include a strong oversight framework that ensures accountability of the participants,” reads the statement from the alliance. “The Code of Practice would not be embedded in regulation, thereby providing flexibility for it to evolve, however participation would be mandatory.”