Pete Buttigieg’s campaign says he had nothing to do with a bread price-fixing scheme in Canada.
The surprising Canadian intrusion into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination follows the release this week of the South Bend, Ind., mayor’s list of clients from his time at consultancy McKinsey & Company. They included a six-month stint in 2008 analyzing grocery prices for Loblaw Cos. Ltd. at its headquarters in a Toronto suburb.
It didn’t take long for Canadians on social media to point out that Mr. Buttigieg’s time at Loblaw overlapped with an illegal scheme by the company and other grocers to inflate the price of bread. The furor quickly spilled over to Americans.
“Which one of you geniuses predicted the artificially inflated cost of bread would be Pete Buttigieg’s downfall?” tweeted one supporter of Bernie Sanders, one of Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals for the Democratic crown. Others jokingly placed emojis of bread, price-increase charts and wheat into their Twitter handles.
Mr. Buttigieg flatly denied having any knowledge of or involvement in the scandal.
“He had nothing to do with this bread pricing issue, and had never heard of it until recently,” wrote Chris Meagher, Mr. Buttigieg’s press secretary, in an e-mail. “He was part of a team that ran analytics and put together a model to help this supermarket chain determine how much – and in what stores – they could make certain items more affordable in order to gain new customers.”
Asked whether McKinsey knew about the price-fixing scheme during its work for Loblaw, the grocer issued a succinct response. “No,” its press e-mail account replied to The Globe and Mail’s query.
McKinsey did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Buttigieg had been pressured to reveal his McKinsey clients following a string of controversies surrounding the firm. McKinsey has done work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government agency that arrests undocumented immigrants – and which some Democrats want to abolish – as well as sundry authoritarian regimes. Mr. Buttigieg released the list after he said McKinsey freed him from a nondisclosure agreement.
Questions about Canadian bread pricing were only another improbable moment for an unlikely campaign. Despite his lack of name recognition at the start of the race, the 37-year-old Mr. Buttigieg is polling near the top of the field, ahead of several seasoned rivals.
In 2017, Loblaw admitted taking part in a scheme in which, starting in 2001, grocery store chains and bread wholesalers colluded to set prices. As compensation, Loblaw offered $25 gift cards to shoppers who had bought bread products at its stores.
Mr. Buttigieg had previously written about his time at Loblaw without naming the company. In his memoir, Shortest Way Home, he wrote that his work there involved running millions of lines of data through a computer program to figure out what it would cost to cut prices on tens of thousands of items. The data was so complex it frequently froze his laptop, so he had a desktop computer, nicknamed Bertha, brought in to handle it.
But spending 80 hours a week crunching Canadian grocery prices ultimately triggered an existential crisis. He would credit the project, which his book situates in the “winter of 2010” rather than 2008, with prompting him to quit McKinsey to pursue a career in politics and time in the military.
“One afternoon, as I set Bertha to sleep mode to go out to the hallway for a cup of coffee,” Mr. Buttigieg wrote, “I realized with overwhelming clarity the reason this could not be a career for very long: I didn’t care.”
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