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Champagne says he's working phones to court new players for Canadian grocery market

Industry minister tight-lipped on which foreign grocers Ottawa is in talks with
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Champagne met with Canadian grocers in the fall about food inflation.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is once again insisting that he is reaching out to international grocers in the hopes they will open up shop in Canada and spur more competition.

The minister says he spoke to one foreign grocer Tuesday (Jan. 30) morning as part of his efforts to court new players to join the Canadian grocery sector  — but he's not naming any names. 

"I can't tell you too much, or else you won't ask me questions next week," Champagne told reporters in French. "I spoke with one company this morning."

Champagne met with Canadian grocers in the fall about food inflation and demanded they create plans to stabilize grocery prices or face consequences including potential tax measures.

The minister has recently expressed disappointment that the grocers have not been more transparent about their plans. But he's stayed mum on whether the federal government plans to punish them for it. 

"Large grocers have not, to date, been sufficiently transparent about the causes of food inflation and they have failed, for the most part, to provide regular updates on initiatives aimed at stabilizing food prices in the country," Champagne said in a letter to Competition Commissioner Matthew Boswell on Monday. 

"The continued record profits in the grocery retail sector indicate that there are more opportunities to bring relief for Canadian consumers."

Champagne's letter to Boswell suggested a follow-up study on the grocery sector, now that the bureau has new powers to subpoena companies for information. 

"I also look forward to discussing your assessment on the potential scope and feasibility of a follow-up grocery market study," the letter said. 

The Competition Bureau published the findings of its previous study in June, saying that grocers' co-operation varied and was not fulsome.

The report found that concentration in the grocery industry has increased in recent years, and the largest grocers have increased their profits from food sales. 

The bureau also said Canada’s grocery sector needs more competition to help keep food prices down, give shoppers more choice and encourage new entrants.

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