Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign said his consulting work for Loblaws, a Canadian grocery chain, was unrelated to a massive, decade-plus scheme in which the supermarket and the country’s largest bakers illegally fixed the price of bread.
Buttigieg revealed on Tuesday that Loblaws was one of his consulting clients during his three-year tenure at McKinsey & Company. He spent much of 2008 in a Toronto conference room at Loblaws analyzing its grocery prices — during a time the supermarket chain has admitted to methodically and illegally colluding to raise the price of bread.
Canadians learned about the price-fixing last year. Prosecutors, working with a pair of whistleblowers, revealed that five grocery store chains and the country’s two largest bakeries colluded to inflate the price of bread by $1.50 from 2001 to 2015. Loblaws was one of several companies that admitted to secretly coordinating price hikes in bread. Loblaws offered Canadians a $25 gift card to make things right; one analyst estimated that the scheme cost Canadians up to $400 each over 14 years.
Buttigieg isn’t implicated here, his campaign said Wednesday. Buttigieg was part of a team analyzing a massive trove of data to identify where price cuts might bring in new customers. His work didn’t relate to bread specifically, his campaign told BuzzFeed, and Buttigieg said he only recently learned about the price-fixing scheme himself when it became public.
Loblaws has also said that McKinsey’s work was separate from the price-fixing scheme.
Buttigieg consulted for the prestigious global consulting group McKinsey from 2007 to 2010. Until this week, when he relented to calls for transparency, his client list and many details of the work he performed there remained a secret. He revealed his client list after McKinsey released him from a nondisclosure agreement.
Critics have called on Buttigieg to not only describe his work at McKinsey but to discuss how it shaped his worldview, given that the firm routinely consults for autocratic governments. Last week, it was revealed that McKinsey consultants proposed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement save money by cutting food, supervision and medical care to immigrants in its custody.
“What I want to know is, how much is Buttigieg a typical McKinsey-ite who only thinks in dollars and cents?” Jeff Hauser, a transparency advocate and director of the Revolving Door Project, told HuffPost.
Buttigieg reportedly saw his McKinsey tenure as a launchpad for elected office. He made it one of his selling points in his earlier campaigns for office in Indiana, where he is the mayor of South Bend. But he’s talked up this part of his resume less in a Democratic primary centered on questions about inequality and corporate power.
Buttigieg’s other former clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Best Buy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Energy Foundation, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Postal Service.
This post was updated with comment from Loblaws.