Price gouging

Did you know that in the United States, price gouging is apparently illegal following a declared state of emergency?

Price gouging is illegal

I actually never would have guessed because the last time I was caught in a declared state of emergency was during the lead-up to Tropical Storm Fay, and I could’ve sworn that those normally 99-cent bottles of water were suddenly requiring an Alexander Hamilton at point of purchase. Maybe Gainesville was just feeling “market forces” or maybe it was my hubris coming back to bite me following my refusal to fund a C-arm.

I had flashbacks to Gainesville following my shopping today. We here in the chez nous generally get a backhand from the oil companies as they somehow manage to increase fuel prices right before the start of a holiday. We’re actually leading up to St-Jean-Baptiste, which is a provincial holiday that generally has at least one person enact his/her civic duty to come up and tell me to go back to where I came from, but I had already filled up before the pre-holiday price gouging fell into place.

No, I was buying vegetables. I didn’t get gouged on vegetables – do the right thing and pay a little more to support local production because it helps encourage better farming and also provides a better product now and continually in the future. If that producer knows you’re serious, you get access to the better stuff (better quality and tastier produce; it could still be visually ugly but flavor is what’s important). I was speaking with local suppliers to see what was coming up so that I could start planning what I might want to can this year.

I canned quite a few things last year, but three items were standouts worth repeating: tomatoes, carrots and beets. The beets were done with a recipe modified from Paul Virant’s The Preservation Kitchen

[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=1607741008]

You have to make at least one modification in almost all of his recipes because the man only knows champagne vinegar which makes canning anything prohibitively expensive (e.g. I calculated that making a cipollini onion recipe to the letter would have cost $10.89 per 500 mL/1 pint jar for the just vinegar alone). The beet recipe however is pretty good because the pickling mixture is 1:1 wine to wine vinegar. I like a lighter color so I used rosé rather than a red, and that’s what I wanted to do for this year’s batch.

It was a good weekend to pick up that rosé because the Société des alcools du Québec (the SAQ, alias our provincial wine monopoly) was running a “10% off any purchase over $100” promotion. That’s actually pretty good for the SAQ. Their best deal is at their Depot locations where it’s 15% off 12 or more items, but the Depot is excluded from the promo and the Depot stock leaves a lot to be desired. My criteria for the rosé was 1) cheap, and 2) quaffable, and Jackson-Trigg’s “Proprietor’s Selection Rosé” fit the bill. It’s not bad as a sangria component and would be superior to say, White Zinfandel from the Gallos. Remember – I’m making a pickling liquid for beets, not drinking it.

However, the “cheap” part of the equation is actually relative. It is not the cheapest rosé in the system, but it’s certainly not cheap. What is particularly irksome is when you can use the Proprietor’s Selection Rosé to see exactly how bad the price gouging is at the only game in town. Jackson-Triggs will sell you this wine for $8.95 + shipping. Pretty much every other province sells it for that price.

However, in the chez nous, the SAQ wants $11.20, or $2.25 more than everyone else. The differential isn’t due to the provincial sale tax of 9.975%, because the duty-free version of this bottle sells at Dorval-Trudeau (YUL) for $9.95. So why do we have to pay an extra dollar? Superior service? Uh, no… I know where the handful of knowledgeable staff is distributed across the stores on the Big Croissant and service is worse in the regions as I even know of one outlet that proudly states it doesn’t carry any weird stuff like sherry and Riesling. Easy access to rare and highly sought-after products due to the size and buying power of the SAQ? Did I ever tell you about my attempts to buy Domaine Leflaive’s Puligny-Montrachet? You can read about that annual exercise in futility here and here.

The price gouging wasn’t so bad as the promo dropped the per-bottle price to $9.18 and thanks to Jackson-Triggs doing a coupon offer, I was able to get the bottles for the beets for $8.18. While I’m happy to get the ingredient at an acceptable price, I still have a sour taste in my mouth (it’s an allusion; I didn’t drink any picking liquid) because I could only do this because there was a promotion and I lucked upon the winery’s marketing promo to boot. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through.

I’d be more amenable to the price gouging if the funds were actually going to something like service or improved product selection or social programs for responsible drinking rather than just being shoveled into provincial coffers to waste on things like imposing signage restrictions on multinationals (really? you actually believe your fellow citizens are too stupid to realize out that Old Navy doesn’t actually sell used warships? that’s a real insult to them), but see two paragraphs above regarding service and product selection.

I am apparently not the only one who thinks that the SAQ active participates in price gouging the public. Tom Kott for one wrote an op-ed piece for the National Post describing how the local monopoly is actually worse than Ontario’s foreign-owned monopolistic Beer Store cartel. But perhaps the most interesting bit was during my search on el Goog for an image to illustrate the price gouging experience.

Guess which logo shows up smack in the middle of row two, right next to an image of a gasoline pump?

Price gouging on wines

 

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