‘Something’s gotta give’: ACORN fights against grocer greed in Canada

Still of some of the protestors under ACORN organization against the rising prices on foods and the governments lack of planning to avoid it. (Submitted: Acorn Canada)

For many Canadians, having enough money to pay for both housing and food is growing difficult, with increasing prices for both rent and groceries. Making the choice between paying for food or just going hungry is becoming common.

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On Feb. 10, ACORN N.B. held rallies across the province to oppose grocery gouging and high grocery prices, with rallies happening in both Moncton and Fredericton.

“It’s more than price gouging,” said Peter Jongeneelen, co-chair of ACORN N.B. and organizer of the Moncton grocery gouging rally. “They cannot blame it on supply or shipping costs or anything like that. It’s greed.”

The Moncton rally, which was held outside a Sobeys and was quickly met with police presence, garnered around 12 attendees and lasted for about an hour. By the end, Jongeneelen successfully gave the store manager a letter they hope to pass on to corporate.

“The thing that we do is basically peaceful direct action,” he said. “We know not to block the store or harass the staff or anything like that. And we do find that a lot of times the staff actually appreciates the fact that we are peaceful.”

Since 2020, food prices have been steadily increasing to unsustainable levels, as people of low income struggle to buy healthy food. Canada’s Food Price Report 2024, released by Dalhousie every year, reports that Canadians spent less on food in 2023. 

However, while this seems positive, this is because Canadians are simply changing their shopping habits with either a decrease in quality or quantity to accommodate, “higher costs for rent and utilities, and raising personal debt.” For ACORN N.B., grocer greed is the culprit.

“Essential things like [baby formula], meats, fresh fruits and vegetables. All of them have gone up significantly in cost. And it’s basically because of the corporate profits,” he said.

Jongeneelen said CEOs like Galen Weston, the head of Loblaws with an annual salary of $11.7 million, are part of the reason so many lower and middle-class Canadians are struggling to put food on the table.

“Something’s gotta give. It’s pretty bad when you hear somebody who’s making $40,000 a year saying basically, ‘I really can’t buy the food that I used to so sometimes I’ll go without.’”

This is also the reality for Jongeneelen himself, as he has experienced the effects of grocery gouging. As someone who is partially disabled and cannot work full time, he has been relying on food banks to get him through the month. He said food bank attendance has more than doubled.

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“I actually use the food bank on a regular basis simply because I have to. That’s not something I should have to be doing,” he said. “I’ve seen basically a number of people coming in the run of a day just to get groceries to survive for a couple of weeks.”

Maddie Mitton, a fellow ACORN member, said she has resorted to food banks as well due to high grocery prices, which is something many Canadians have had to do. Food Banks Canada reported in the 2023 Hunger Count that since March 2019, food bank visits increased by 78.5 per cent with nearly 2 million visits in March 2023.

Mitton also has a disability which requires her to use a walker and needs someone to take her out for groceries, which means Sobeys has been her only option that works for her needs.

“The prices are outrageous. They’re pretty expensive. And you don’t really have a choice. I don’t have the luxury of going from store to store to store because of my disability,” she said.

With a plethora of food allergies on top of this, shopping for groceries has become a difficult task. 

“It’s just unrealistic. Give us a break here somewhere,” she said. “We need help. We need the government to do something”

Jongeneelen said ACORN’s hope is that their actions will spark the government to address grocery gouging in N.B. and the rest of the country. Although the Trudeau government had a grocery rebate last year, this was a “drop in the bucket compared to what people really need.”

“It’s just greed. Outright corporate greed. There are things that can be fixed and it does start at the top.”