September 23, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 14  

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London business alleges Western meal card program unfair, illegal

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

The Western One meal plan may not be all it is cracked up to be, particularly if you are a small business in the area.

The Flying Tomato Pizza Company has filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau against the Western One meal plan, said Chris Ferguson, owner of the Flying Tomato.

The complaint is based on the feeling Western's meal plan is an example of exclusive dealing, Ferguson explained, adding that offering the meal plan off campus has meant students now favour establishments which offer the meal plan and ignore other businesses.

"Sales have been dropping [lately]," Ferguson said, adding he took over ownership of the Flying Tomato after the initial owners declared bankruptcy.

According to Ferguson, in order to be able to offer the meal plan at his establishment he had to offer Western 15 per cent of the sale price, which is astronomical for a small pizzeria especially considering Ferguson only gets a profit of approximately seven and a half per cent of the sale price before taxes.

"It's not economically feasible for all small businesses," said Susan Grindrod, associate-VP of housing and ancillary services at Western.

According to Grindrod, the onus is on businesses to approach Western to join the meal plan, then Western evaluates the business' value to Western and the students. "We're looking to provide a service to students."

The Competition Bureau cannot comment on specific cases that are currently open, said Maureen McGrath, senior communications advisor at the Competition Bureau.

McGrath pointed out that having criteria to enter into agreements such as the meal plan is permissible, but if prospective businesses meet those criteria and are not given placement this could be an example of illegal exclusive dealing.

Ferguson maintained that he felt there are many meal plans which are not as costly and shady. "Food services [at Western] are highly secretive," he said.



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