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For Canadian grocers, "business as usual" might be changing


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This needs a bit of context.


For those of you who have worked in retail at the management level, or have worked in logistics, you'll know that big retailers are rather fond of chargebacks. If a product arrives late, they'll charge you back part of its value. If it's mislabeled, or incomplete, or has a higher-than-normal percentage of breakage...you get the idea. Basically the retailer gets to say "I'm not paying full price for that," and the supplier - typically a much smaller company - has the traditional options of "like it or lump it."


Last spring, as the pandemic hit, Walmart and homegrown grocery giant Loblaws earned some unwelcome press when suppliers groused (usually anonymously, for fear of retribution) that those two companies had used COVID as leverage against them. At a time when shortages and supply-chain disruptions were the order of the day, the two companies doubled down on chargebacks for late and incomplete shipments, raising fees at a time when it was all but impossible to not have delayed or incomplete shipments.


Now the #2 chain in the country, Empire (owner of Sobeys, Safeway and a number of other brands) has collaborated with the federal regulatory agency overseeing the grocery industry to create a new (proposed) code of conduct, modeled on one introduced previously in the UK. It's a major shift in attitude for the company, which has a long history of resisting regulation and oversight.


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