U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says not only did he have nothing to do with Canada's infamous bread price-fixing scandal, he only just heard about it.
"He had nothing to do with this bread pricing issue, and had never heard of it until recently. He was part of a team that ran analytics and put together a model to help this supermarket chain determine how much—and in what stores—they could make certain items more affordable in order to gain new customers," his campaign said in an email to VICE Wednesday.
An interview Tuesday with the Atlantic was meant to clear up confusion regarding his work at the elite firm McKinsey & Company, which included time working for Canadian supermarket chain Loblaws. But it fed discussion online about whether or not “Mayor Pete” was part of—or aware of—practices behind Canada’s bread price-fixing scandal during his time there.
As reported in VICE earlier on Tuesday, multiple Twitter accounts highlighted the fact that Buttigieg’s own revelations placed him at a major Canadian grocery chain in 2008—during the bread price-fixing scandal. For about 15 years, starting in 2001, several grocers and bread makers, including Loblaws, worked together to inflate the price of bread across the country. Loblaws offered Canadians $25 gift cards after the scandal was uncovered.
Buttigieg’s six-month stint with Loblaws in the Toronto area allowed him to build a system to analyze “millions of lines of data,” to figure out the best way to cut prices while increasing profit. Loblaws is Canada’s largest grocery retailer, based on revenue.
According to Buttigieg, the analysis he built while at Loblaws was too big for Excel, so he kept it on a laptop that he nicknamed Bertha. “There’s an exquisite science to this, because it all depends on how many competing stores are in the same area,” he told the Atlantic.
In his memoir, Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future, he described scenarios that manipulated shoppers with “a well-placed price cut” to subtly change their perception of getting a good deal.
In a statement to VICE, Loblaw Companies Limited, Loblaws’ parent company, said: “We retained McKinsey in 2008 to better understand how we could lower prices for customers across a number of categories. Analysis such as this is common practice across the retail industry and is done in an effort to improve our value proposition to all customers.”
VICE also reached out to McKinsey but has not received a response.
Both Buttigieg and rival Democratic leadership hopeful Elizabeth Warren have been under pressure to be more transparent about who they worked for, how much they were paid, and the nature of their work in the past. Buttigieg Tuesday spoke out against some of the practices at McKinsey, saying “it’s a place that is as amoral as the American business community in general, can be.”
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