Canadian supermarket chains made significant profits in the last quarter of this year as Canadians struggled to keep up with soaring grocery costs, according to hunger advocacy groups.
Some of the largest industry players, such as Loblaws, Sobeys, and Metro, have reported a significant increase in revenues — up to 31%, data from the Toronto Star revealed.
Over the same period, thousands of vulnerable Canadians have continued to grapple with food insecurity and inflation — both of which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Advocacy organizations like FoodShare have called out what they perceive as blatant inequity, adding that the government should take action to help steer the private sector in a more equitable direction.
“Food insecurity has increased pretty significantly — we’ve never seen anything like this before,” FoodShare Executive Director Paul Taylor told the Toronto Star. “We’ve been advocating for a long time that the government needs to take issues like food insecurity and poverty seriously. These corporations are making major profits while people are hungry.”
According to a recent study, an estimated 104,000 people in Toronto alone visited food banks during September — and the number keeps rising.
Countrywide, food bank visits have increased by up to 51% this year, suggesting that COVID-19 has had devastating consequences on food security across provinces.
The study also revealed that income and social assistance rates have failed to keep pace with inflation, pushing many Canadians below the poverty line.
“Generally speaking, we are asking Canadians to pay more for food relative to income,” Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said in an interview with the Star. “The problem of the last decade is that we haven’t seen salaries go up all that much for many, many groups.”
Organizations like the Toronto Food Policy Council are calling on grocery chains to help redress the balance by reinstating pandemic pay and providing gift cards to those in need, but companies like Metro said much had already been done to keep prices “as low as possible,” adding that they were “often not fully passing the cost of some increases” incurred.
If prices continue to climb at their current rate, the average Canadian family could soon be paying more than $12,000 a year in groceries, representing an increase of more than $400 from 2019. With an added risk of shortages, remote Indigenous communities in Northern Canada could also be left increasingly vulnerable to food insecurity as the pandemic rages on.