Newly released court documents shed light on the origins of a bread price-fixing scandal by major Canadian producers and retailers.
The scheme got started more than a decade ago when an employee of Canada Bread Co. Ltd. made a presentation at an industry event showing how bread price increases were lagging those in other segments and suggested the bakery business should also increase prices, the documents say.
A plan was hatched under which Person X from Canada Bread, whose identity or even sex cannot be revealed, a court has ruled, “was going to the retailers to get their buy-in for a price increase with the goal of orchestrating alignment through the retail community,” the documents say.
The revelations came on Thursday when Justice Lynn Ratushny of Ontario Superior Court approved the release of eight paragraphs of key court documents filed by the Competition Bureau in its price-fixing scandal allegations. But the court blacked out any reference to Person X’s identity, calling the person “it.”
Person X, a person alleged to be involved in the price-fixing conspiracy, had sought and obtained last month an order prohibiting publication of information that reveals that person’s identity.
The bureau’s document, partly released in court in January, backs up its request to search and seize documents in the matter. The bureau has alleged that Canada’s top two bread makers, Canada Bread and Weston Bakeries Ltd., launched a campaign to fix the price of bread products with the co-operation of some of the country’s largest retailers more than 14 years ago.
No charges have been laid.
Person X had told someone else in the field that the bread industry was “crazy” compared with another unidentified sector that raised prices annually. “There’s no reason the bakery business shouldn’t do the same,” the court document alleges Person X said.
“Person X did comparisons to cereal and other grain-based products to show that bread was undervalued, but particularly undervalued when it came to the profitability performance of bread shelves,” the newly released information says.
The court documents says that “clearly when it left the meeting, Person X had a feeling and a sense that [the witness] was anxious and willing on behalf of Weston Bakeries to comply with an increase” in bread prices.
Grocery giant Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and its parent George Weston Ltd., which also owns Weston Bakeries, have admitted participating in what they called an industry-wide price-fixing scheme for bread, and, in return, got immunity from criminal charges and co-operated in the investigation. Loblaw gave customers $25 gift cards this year in an effort to make amends and win back consumers’ favour.