Monday is the first opportunity for consumers to sign up to receive a $25 gift card from Loblaws related to the grocer's role in fixing the price of bread for more than a decade, but the agreement comes with some fine print.
Late last year, Loblaws announced it would give out the cards as an olive branch to customers who were angered by the grocer's admission that it had conspired to inflate the price of packaged bread between 2002 and 2015.
Customers were directed to a website, loblawcard.ca, which was, prior to Monday, short on specifics. However, the website is now updated with a sign-up form and more detail on the program.
For the first time, the retailer has included a full list of products that saw their prices hiked up. They are packaged bread products from:
- Ben's Bread.
- Bon Matin Bread.
- Country Harvest Bread.
- Dempster's Bread.
- D'Italiano Bread.
- Gadoua Bread.
- McGavin's Bread.
- No Name Bread.
- Old Mill Bread.
- POM Bread.
- Weston Bread.
- Wonder Bread.
Anyone who purchased any of those products at any Loblaws store — which includes brands like No Frills, Superstore, Provigo, Zehrs and many others — between 2002 and March of 2015 is entitled to participate, and no proof of purchase is required.
Loblaws says it reserves the right to limit the number of cards that will be issued under the program, although the site doesn't include a number where it might be capped.
Previously, the company had suggested that it was expecting between three and five million Canadians would sign up, bringing the price tag to up to $150 million worth of gift cards.
The cards will have no expiry date, Loblaws says, but the same can't be said for the program itself: anyone who wants to participate must do so by May 8.
The card also has to be used for food products. Holders can't use them to buy alcohol, tobacco, gasoline or cash withdrawals at in-store ATMs.
The size, scope and longevity of the price-fixing scandal has prompted a number of class-action lawsuits against the company, and Loblaws says at the top of the website that participating in the rebate program doesn't preclude someone from participating in one of those suits.
But fine print at the bottom of the sign-up form itself makes it clear that if you sign up, $25 will be deducted from any potential payouts from lawsuits down the line.
"Agreeing to this release will not impact your right to participate in any class actions relating to an overcharge on the price of packaged bread," the fine print reads.
"However, doing so will mean that twenty-five (25) dollars will be deducted from any compensation that you may otherwise be entitled to receive in any class action judgment against, or settlement with, Loblaw relating to any overcharge on the price of packaged bread in the period between January 1, 2002 and March 1, 2015."
Michael Vathilakis, a partner at a law firm attempting to certify a class action against the company, said the gift card plan is pure "PR spin" from a company that has abused the public's trust and is looking for the cheapest way out.
"They've unilaterally decided that they are going to remove it from any additional compensation you may receive by way of a class action lawsuit, settlement judgment or otherwise," he told CBC News in an interview.
"My advice would be read the fine print."
Another firm, Sotos LLP, which is also organizing a suit, had the following advice for people after the details of the offer came out: "We are recommending that class members wait … to register for the card."
Participating in the program also requires consumers to give up a lot of personal information, including their name, date of birth, address and other contact information — mainly because the company needs that in order to mail out the cards in the first place.
While data like that is a goldmine to retailers, Loblaws says it will not use the information for marketing purposes. "We will not use the personal Information provided to participate in the Loblaw Card Program to market to you, unless we have already obtained your consent to do so," the company says in the agreement.
Despite the strings attached, Prof. Steve Tissenbaum of the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto suspects that millions of Canadians will sign up, and turn a blind eye to any downsides in the process.
"There will be millions of people that will take advantage of getting the $25," he said in an interview, "but I don't know how many people are upset."
Many will simply take the offer of what appears to be free money.
"If someone wants to give me some money — I will take it."