The Hamilton Spectator

Loblaw needs to rethink its PR


It’s fair to say Loblaw is facing some of the most intense criticism of any grocer in the country, if not in North America.

Reporters from around the globe are now turning to Canadian experts to better understand what has been termed the “Loblaw phenomenon.” Despite Galen Weston’s disappeara­nce from the airwaves almost a year ago, in April 2023, animosity toward the company and him remains palpable.

On social media, numerous websites are dedicated to criticizin­g Canada’s leading grocer, and this criticism has been ongoing for several months, showing no signs of slowing down. Neverthele­ss, Loblaw’s stock price remains remarkably strong, making it one of the best-performing stocks on Bay Street. At over $150 a share, it is 30 per cent higher than 12 months ago and nearly 130 per cent more than five years ago.

Loblaw is undeniably a wellmanage­d company, boasting a highly efficient food innovation superclust­er called President’s Choice. In addition to its success in the food sector, Loblaw generates revenue from real estate, financial services and

Shoppers Drug Mart, which serves as a key component of its portfolio. Whether or not Loblaw’s critics like to admit it, the company, which is also the largest private employer in Canada, is thriving financiall­y. However, from a public relations standpoint, it is struggling.

Over the past three months, both Loblaw and Weston have made several missteps. One notable incident involved Loblaw and Weston apologizin­g for providing inaccurate informatio­n to members of Parliament when Weston spoke about Australia’s code of conduct.

Additional­ly, the company had to backtrack on its decision to end the 50 per cent discount on expiring food, a move that did not sit well with Canadians. CTV News’ Hafsa Arif had to inform the public the policy was ending across the country and Loblaw’s discountin­g policy was to be aligned with the competitio­n. Loblaw reversed its decision a few days after CTV News broke the story.

Loblaw also faced public outcry over its deal with Manulife, which it had to end. This incident once again made the company appear nontranspa­rent, as backroom deals are often perceived as being against the public interest, particular­ly in sensitive areas such as health care.

Most recently, CBC News’ Sophia Harris reported — not Loblaw

itself — the company was implementi­ng new anti-theft measures that might make shoppers feel guilty. Loblaw came under fire for introducin­g receipt scanners in four southern Ontario stores as a trial initiative. This measure raises legal rights concerns, as well as fire and public safety issues.

If shopliftin­g is indeed an issue, Loblaw should provide quantifiab­le numbers to the public to demonstrat­e the extent of losses incurred through shopliftin­g or organized crime, if applicable. This would allow consumers to better understand the company’s perspectiv­e. Instead, Loblaw appears to be a company that is only remotely interested in the wellestabl­ished but fragile moral contract it has with the public, which is based on trust and compassion.

What is most troubling in recent months is the unsympathe­tic and corporate feel of the messages conveyed by Loblaw to the public. The approach seems to equate the relationsh­ip between shareholde­rs and the public, when it should be fundamenta­lly different. The public deserves a friendlier, more human approach.

If someone dislikes Loblaw for any reason, they can always shop elsewhere. However, in Canada, grocers tend to copy each other, so practices from a dominant player like Loblaw often become the norm. Therefore, complaints against Loblaw are not in vain, as they can have a broader impact on the industry as a whole.

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