Canada Bread, Walmart among those under investigation for alleged bread price-fixing

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20 December 2017. By Richard Vanderford and Leah Nylen.

Seven bread suppliers and retailers are under investigation by Canada's Competition Bureau over allegations that they were involved in a conspiracy to fix bread prices, a bureau lawyer said.

The bureau has investigated Canada Bread, a supplier, and retailers Walmart, Sobeys, Metro and Giant Tiger over their alleged involvement in the conspiracy, Senior Competition Law Officer Simon Bessette said in an affidavit filed in Ontario Superior Court in November and recently made public.

More unnamed parties might be involved, Bessette said. "The bureau is collecting facts to determine the precise time frame of, and the participants in, the alleged conspiracy," he said.

The bread probe is arguably the bureau's its highest-profile investigation, with the allegations centered on some of Canada's most visible retailers and around allegations that they rigged prices of a household staple.

Renewed public interest came after two other participants, Loblaw and affiliate Weston Bakeries, on Tuesday publicly admitted their involvement and disclosed that they had applied to the bureau for immunity.

Bessette's affidavit was filed in support of a motion to keep several search warrants under seal.

Search warrants obtained by MLex show raids involving dozens of bureau staffers at 18 corporate offices in Montreal, greater Toronto and Nova Scotia. The warrants authorized raids on four Metro officers in Montreal alone, and two in Greater Toronto.

About 80 bureau staffers were authorized to participate in the searches, the warrants said. The warrants were served in late October and early November.

The bureau sought evidence of price coordination in a broad range of bread products, including bagged bread, rolls, English muffins, bagels, wraps, pita, tortillas and naan.

Bessette’s affidavits and the search warrants were unsealed on Dec. 18 by court order.

Loblaw and Weston declined comment, pointing to their statement, made Tuesday, about seeking immunity.

Sobeys and Giant Tiger both said in statements that they are cooperating but do not believe they have violated the Competition Act.

Canada Bread said it was cooperating fully with the investigation and noted that neither the company nor any of its associates have been charged.

Metro said it has launched an internal investigation but so far has found no evidence of competition violations.

A spokesperson for Walmart Canada didn’t respond to a request for comment.