Its birth was “almost” announced in January, yet it was not until the end of October that the famous code of conduct aimed at cleaning up relations between supermarkets and suppliers would see the light of day in the country. Although the ink is not yet dry, some processors are already expressing doubts about its effectiveness and retailers are still hesitant to adhere to it, if it retains its current form.

However, its implementation could in the long term allow consumers to pay in grocery stores the “best price” that the industry can offer, estimates the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec, André Lamontagne.

A fee of $400 for a barely damaged pallet even though the products are in good condition, a bill of $150 for a questionnaire sent by a retailer to its suppliers, regardless of whether they respond or not, fees charged to processors to contribute to the implementation of a loyalty program. These are all practices that grocery stores use and which are strongly denounced by those who supply the merchandise in store. The establishment of the code of conduct, a true watchdog of the industry, should help to improve relations. Minister Lamontagne is among those who fought hard to better regulate commercial practices. While at the start of the year, in principle, only a few formalities were needed to be completed to deliver it at the start of summer, it will finally be ready for Halloween. According to the minister, it would come into force at the beginning of 2024.

“We can see the landing strip. We are very close,” assured Mr. Lamontagne during a telephone interview with La Presse. But how can we explain that the duration of the “flight” was longer than expected? “These are long processes,” he explains. This is a big deal. It involves a lot of people. »

After numerous consultations, the process is currently in the “final phase”, he assures. Currently, we are working to confirm with the companies concerned (retailers, manufacturers) their adherence to the code.

While the federal government is putting pressure on large chains to implement measures to reduce grocery bills, the implementation of the code could also allow consumers to pay the best price for groceries. industry has to offer, according to Mr. Lamontagne.

“It’s certain that the code is not something in the short term. But from the moment all the players [commit] to having more transparency, more fairness, I tell myself that ultimately, we will have the best of this channel. And the price that the consumer will face will be the best price that this entire chain is able to offer. »

The minister assures that a very large number of actors have already rallied. And the federal Minister of Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, for his part took advantage of a press conference in Ottawa last week to in turn demand the implementation of the famous code of conduct. However, several processors interviewed by La Presse did not hide their skepticism and doubt that the latter – to which membership is voluntary and not forced by any law – could succeed in changing a modus operandi well established by retailers.

“I still have certain doubts,” says Élaine Bélanger, co-owner and vice-president of operations at Maison Orphée, a company specializing in the manufacturing of oils, vinaigrettes and mustards. It’s a code of conduct that is voluntary,” she insists.

“There are a lot of decisions that are made unilaterally. We often feel, as a processor, that we are left with the hot potato. » Ms. Bélanger wonders to what extent the code of conduct could turn things around.

As for Prana, a company known in particular for its nut mixtures, the co-founder, Marie-Josée Richer, advocates “transparency” in the relationships between the different links in the chain. Would a code make this happen? “I don’t know,” she blurts.

Among the five major brands (Metro, Loblaw, IGA, Costco and Walmart), not all have yet given their support to the code. “There are some who ask themselves certain questions,” recognizes Minister Lamontagne. I invite them all to be aware that what is happening is historic. »

Loblaw (Maxi, Provigo) claims to be in agreement with the idea of ​​implementing a code, but is hesitant to support the current version of the one that is being refined.

“Loblaw continues to actively participate in discussions surrounding the code of conduct and wishes to be one of the signatories of such a code aimed at ensuring fairness, transparency and consistency for all stakeholders in the supply chain,” indicated by email its senior director, corporate affairs and communications, Johanne Héroux.

“However, we will not be able to adhere to a code that risks leading to an increase in food prices. We remain optimistic about our ability to agree on a code that meets these objectives and we will work actively over the coming weeks in conjunction with other industry stakeholders to arrive at a more acceptable version. . »

In a terse response, Walmart spokesperson Steeve Azoulay said only that the retailer was “actively participating in industry discussions and providing feedback on the draft grocery code of conduct.”

On the Metro side, however, we say we want to join.

IGA and Costco did not respond to questions from La Presse.

For the moment, Mr. Lamontagne does not want to point any fingers since the discussions are not yet over and he believes that everyone is in “good faith”.

However, he suggested that at the end of the process, he would not hesitate to “publicly” question a company about its motivations for not adhering to the code.

Objective: to improve relations between grocery stores and suppliers

Start of work: November 2020

Amount spent by Quebec to date, for studies and consultations with various industry players: $328,400

Effective date: early 2024

Formation of the Office of the Code Superintendent for the Grocery Sector: Early 2024 (its role will be to advise the industry and resolve disputes)

Cost of implementing the code: For the first two years, the federal and provincial governments will pay just under $2 million.