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Canadians Are Convinced Mayor Pete Helped Fix Bread Prices

The conspiracy theory linking Pete Buttigieg to Canada’s bread price fixing scandal is based on his own revelations.

by Anne Gaviola
Dec 10 2019, 7:47pm

Photo by Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via AP

You could call them “bread truthers.” They’re a motley crew of Twitter accounts—mostly Canadian—prodding at the six months that U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (a.k.a. Mayor Pete) consulted for a major Canadian grocer. That was in 2008, in the midst of the Great Canadian bread price-fixing scandal, during which a cartel of the country’s biggest grocers and bread manufacturers hiked and manipulated the price of bread. You may remember this scandal because grocery giant Loblaws offered Canadians $25 each for their troubles.

It may sound like a fringe-y conspiracy theory, but according to Buttigieg’s own description, he analyzed “the effects of price cuts on various combinations of items across their hundreds of stores.” He also played around with food pricing based on consumer behaviour. He was an associate of elite global consulting firm McKinsey & Company during that time.

Buttigieg’s time at McKinsey spawned a decent amount of interest on Twitter—including its own emoji set—a loaf of bread and skyrocketing price chart. It sounds like a joke, but all of this is based on Buttigieg’s real revelations.

Buttigieg bowed to pressure from political opponents to reveal his ties to corporations as well as people raising money for his campaign, for possible conflicts of interest. He made public a timeline of his projects from 2007 to 2010, during the three years that he worked for elite consulting firm McKinsey.

A New York Times investigation with ProPublica shows McKinsey’s deep ties to ICE, reporting that the firm earned millions advising the immigration enforcement agency to cut back on food and medicine for detainees. Mayor Pete was not involved in those activities, but the “real-world” experience that he said he got while at McKinsey is under scrutiny.

According to Buttigieg’s latest descripton of his work in the Toronto area in 2008, he “served a grocery and retail chain for approximately six months, analyzing the effects of price cuts on various combinations of items across their hundreds of stores.” According to his tax information, he made $122,680 that year.

Twitter user @ChalicothereX tweeted passages from Buttgieg’s memoir, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, wondering if his time in Canada was part of the scandal that inflated and influenced bread prices.

In the book, Buttigieg detailed becoming an expert on grocery pricing. In his own summary of his private sector experience at McKinsey, published on Medium, the project in Toronto was his only time at a grocer.

In his memoir Buttigieg wrote, “I was learning about the nature of data. By manipulating millions of data points, I could weave stories about possible futures, and gather insights on which ideas were good or bad. I could simulate millions of shoppers going up and down the aisles of thousands of stores, and in my mind I pictured their habits shifting as a well-placed price cut subtly changed their perceptions of our clients as a better place to shop.”

This sounds a lot like the strategies behind the Canadian bread price-fixing scandal, which, according to regulators, involved collusion and “victimized” shoppers between 2001 and 2015. Statistics Canada data shows that in that time, the price of bread rose by 96 percent while the price of all other grocery store food increased 45 percent.

Buttigieg ’s campaign manager, Mike Schmuhl, did not comment specifically on the price-fixing scandal. But on Monday he offered reporters a blanket statement on transparency saying, “From the start, Pete has said it is important for every candidate to be open and honest, and his actions have reflected that commitment.”

VICE requested comment from both Buttigieg’s team and McKinsey but has not received a response.

Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.

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