Metro Expects Higher Grocery Prices in the Future

Tariffs lead to supply pressure
August 15, 2018 Updated: August 15, 2018

Canadian grocery giant Metro Inc. is already facing pressure from suppliers to accept higher prices in light of a recent tariff war with the United States, and consumers should expect slightly higher food bills in the future, its CEO said on Aug. 15.

“We’re starting to get demands from some suppliers who are, whose products will be, affected by the new tariffs,” Eric La Fleche said during a conference call with analysts after the company released its third-quarter earnings report.

The Canadian government implemented tariffs on Canada Day on a number of American-made goods, including yogurt, orange juice, and maple syrup, in retaliation for U.S. government-imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products, which are also putting pressure on some Canadian food manufacturers.

The company is currently reviewing suppliers’ demands and negotiating prices, La Fleche said.

“If it’s legitimate and if it’s industry-wide, sometimes we won’t have a choice and we will have to accept,” he said, adding that the company has already agreed to some minor cost increases.

Metro will continue to ensure its retail prices are competitive, La Fleche said, but he expects the company, as well as the market as a whole, will have to accept some cost increases.

Ontario’s new minimum wage, which rose to $14 at the start of the year, is adding extra pressure on prices.

“We expect that the cumulative effect of all these cost pressures should start to be reflected at retail,” La Fleche said. “We’re just starting to see some minor price increases—nothing major.”

Cost of Cans

Empire Co. Ltd., which operates subsidiary Sobeys Inc., predicted a similar outlook in late June, when the company reported its latest quarterly earnings. Sobeys CEO Michael Medline said at the time that the pending tariffs could result in higher grocery store prices, though he said the company would try to resist accepting suppliers’ cost increases.

A number of companies whose products use cans, including the Campbell Company of Canada and Molson Coors Brewing Company, have said that the 10 percent tariffs the United States has slapped on aluminum imports have forced them to consider price increases.

La Fleche’s comments came as Metro reported that it earned lower-than-expected earnings in its latest quarter.

The company earned $167.5 million, or 69 cents per share, in the third quarter ended July 7, as it completed its acquisition of the Jean Coutu Group on May 11, compared with a profit of $183 million, or 78 cents per diluted share, a year ago.