Loblaws Twitter campaign over food prices divides marketing experts

Feb 9, 2023 | Biz/Tech, News

Loblaws is fighting a war to clear its name online amid growing outrage on food prices.

The food giant faced criticism online after lifting a price freeze on no-name goods it put in place during the pandemic.

The retailer said pressures from suppliers made it necessary to raise prices. But that decision, paired with the soaring food prices, lead to the marketing and public relations teams at Loblaws responding to complaints online.

Humber College Bachelor of Public Relations professor Boyd Neil believes Loblaws is making a sensible move by defending itself rather than simply remaining silent.

“They’re not going to convince anybody who’s on Twitter, they tend to be people who are of the mind ‘everything’s wrong with the world – corporations are out to screw us,’” he said.

“I don’t think Loblaws has anything to lose by attempting to explain itself, even if it’s not in sufficient detail. I think that it is beneficial for companies to attempt to explain themselves if they’re ready for the reaction that they’ll get.”

Loblaws is braving the flurry of outrage to get their side of the story out there for the record.

“While we may be the face of food inflation, we are certainly not the cause,” Loblaws said in a tweet on Jan. 31. “Food prices are higher in our stores simply because the manufacturers who make the products are charging more for them.”

Boyd also said that the focus for companies should be to simply make their points on a public forum like Twitter, and to avoid engaging with individual users.

“I advised companies, in my past consulting career, on using social media, that the target is not people on Twitter,” said Neil. “That’s not why you post as a company, you post as a company, because you want the media and regulators to hear what your point of view is, and Twitter is a mechanism to reach those kinds of people.”

Anne Marie Males, Program Coordinator for the Public Relations program at Humber, finds the tactics confusing and disjointed.

“My first thought was, what is the strategy?” she said. “And what I mean by that is, when you go into communication, you need to have an outcome in mind. And I don’t know what it is they’re attempting to achieve. What they’re doing is not going to suddenly make people love them.”

Males said that if companies are going to launch a campaign like this, such as Loblaws trying to clear its name, it needs to come from a source of education and sympathy.

“The problem is they don’t have good key messages for us,” Males said. “The fact is, they are making records. While many Canadians are struggling to buy food, right? And so they don’t really have good key messages to change that back.”

Loblaws has yet to address the questions of its social media strategy directly.