MONTREAL -- A judge has approved a class action lawsuit against the so-called bread cartel, 10 companies that are being accused of conspiring to fix the price of bread for nearly two decades.

Quebecers who have purchased bread after 2001 from one of the companies are automatically included in the suit, and could be part of a potential settlement.

Competition Bureau Canada claims wholesalers Canada Bread and Weston Bakeries agreed to increase their bread prices and other baked goods between 2001 and 2017.

"It's a big step in the sense that price-fixing is taking place on a staple like bread, " said lawyer Michael Vathilakis. "Without over-dramatizing it, there are people that are really affected by something of this nature. It's price-fixing on a staple product of our society and something that I suppose most consumers just wouldn't expect."

The bureau also alleges that five big grocery chains - Loblaws, Sobeys, metro, Walmart and Giant Tiger - were in on the fix.

The bureau's investigation found the hikes were 10 cents per year, which artificially inflated the price of bread and related products by about $1.50 over 16 years.

Loblaws and parent company George Weston admitted to a price-fixing arrangement in 2017 and offered a $25 gift card to eligible customers.

Lawyers in the current suit say the benevolent action won't exclude Loblaws from potentially having to pay out the revenue generated by the inflation.

It is still unclear how customers will receive money or how they will prove they bought bread.

Vathilakis said it may come down to claimants simply having to sign an affirmation.