National Column: What lies at the end of the bread-crumb trail

The Morinville News is closed for Christmas vacation; however, we are still presenting our syndicated National News column during the break.

by Vinay Menon
12/23/2017

This bread price-fixing scheme is like a rising loaf of intrigue.

In the interest of full disclosure, about 96 per cent of what I know about price-fixing comes from The Informant! And, sadly, that film is sparse on how a shadowy cabal of baked-goods conspirators might manipulate prices and gouge Canadian toast and sandwich enthusiasts for the better part of this millennium.

So we must wait until the Competition Bureau ends the most exhaustive inquiry in food-crime history. This plot was sliced between 2001 and 2015. That’s 14 years, or seven times as long as Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree.

It ended two years ago and the investigation is . . . ongoing?

Is the Competition Bureau three guys, a Commodore 64 and a muffin-sniffing dog?

Personally, I have a theory as to why the investigation is taking so long: this bread misconduct is the tip of the iceberg lettuce! Regulators stumbled upon a hot potato! There are bigger fish to fry! This is not the icing on the cake!

(Thank you. I will show myself out.)

Investigations often start in one place and up in another.

So think about the possible sequence of events here. As we can extrapolate from The Informant!, one of the rye thugs probably went to authorities. This led to an undercover sting. There was an unmarked delivery truck idling across the street from a bakery as the feds covertly listened to bugs concealed in yeast jars. They got incriminating evidence. They captured surveillance footage in which regional managers, distributors and burly pastry chefs converged in a dark alley to hash out scams while speckled with flour and concealing sawed-off spatulas.

Suspect 1: “We’re jacking up Country Harvest Prairie Bran to $3.99 in the weekend flyer.”

Suspect 2: “I don’t know, man. For 675 grams, that seems high and -”

Suspect 1: “- ARE YOU IN OR OUT? Bread is the gateway.”

Big Grocery must be quaking next to the frozen-foods cabinets right now. You can’t tell me this starts and ends with bread. No way. I read those weekend flyers. I’m amazed at how so many products – milk, eggs, pop, toilet paper, salmon filets, sea salt, ice cream, grilling steaks – have prices that fluctuate week-over-week and yet are priced identically in my postal code that week.

How is that possible without grand food collusion?

I suspect this is why Loblaw Companies Ltd. publicly confessed to having a role in the Great Bread Deception. They are seeking bread amnesty because the bread is the least of it. I get that execs are eager to avoid a stint in President’s Choice Prison. But to atone for this half-baked corruption – Dempster’s meets The Sopranos – they are prepared to give a $25 gift card to any Canadian adult.

That’s desperate. That’s crazy. You don’t need any proof of purchase. You might have never even stepped foot inside a Loblaws. For all they know, you could be allergic to wheat and gluten.

No matter. Starting in January, chief executive Galen Weston will channel Oprah and turn the entire country into his grateful studio audience: “You get a card! You get a card! You get a card! You get a card! Every Canadian gets a gift card!”

When you’re blowing through the free dough – by the way, according to this weekend’s flyer, 25 bucks won’t even get you a batch of New Caledonian Blue Shrimp – do not forget what that gift card represents.

It is blood-bread money. It is unleavened payoff. It is damage-control capitalism standing atop a wobbly shopping cart and sprinkling bread crumbs on our hungry peasant faces. It is a distraction from other rip-offs that have turned produce aisles into crime scenes.

That’s why we need to stay vigilant and vocal. First they came for the cauliflower, and I did not speak out – because cauliflower is disgusting. I can’t be quiet anymore, not after these French stick revelations. Mr. Weston, I will not take a numbered ticket at the deli counter and stand over there until this rotten pumpernickel of a scandal rolls away.

But I will take your gift card. Two, if you can spare them.

Whenever the Competition Bureau ends this investigation – so, around 2027 – we Canadians must demand new probes of every already-confusingly priced product inside the national chains.

Do you really expect me to believe the cost of disposable razor blades has outpaced inflation by 5,000 per cent over the last two decades? Or that a hurricane in the Virgin Islands is the reason a carton of shelf-stable guava juice is $7 instead of $2.49, even though that carton was on a Toronto shelf before the storm?

Don’t make me choke on my D’Italiano Sesame Seed toast.

As Matt Damon observes in The Informant!: “Paranoid is what people who are trying to take advantage of you call you to get you to drop your guard!”

And with that, I will show myself out.

Merry Christmas. May the holidays crackle with good cheer and competitively priced baked goods.

vmenon@thestar.ca
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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