Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sobeys buys, but will it give?

Charities eyeing takeover of Safeway

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Safeway might be where you get your milk and bread every week but, to a large number of community organizations in Manitoba, the grocery giant is, quite simply, a difference-maker.

The Calgary-based grocer donated in excess of $4 million in cash and food to more than 3,500 events and causes in 2012, continuing a long history of philanthropy in the province.

But with Sobeys' recent $5.8-billion purchase of Safeway expected to receive regulatory approval later this year, some of those community groups are understandably a little unsure about what the future holds.

'My suspicion is (Sobeys) will begin to play a much bigger role in community involvement...'

-- Michael Benarroch, dean of the I.H. Asper School of Business

Resby Coutts, president of Curl Manitoba, said worried isn't the right word to describe his state of mind regarding the title sponsorship of the provincial men's curling championship. Safeway's latest three-year deal -- the end of which will mark its 20th year of sponsorship -- is due to expire after next season anyway, so he knew some negotiations were in order.

"I'm realistic that a conversation has to take place. It's the same conversation that had to take place (anyway). We'll be talking with new folks and probably under a different set of rules," he said.

Sobeys spokesman Andrew Walker said operational issues such as sponsorships won't be addressed until the deal closes. They would be part of the integration process.

Until then, Safeway spokesman John Graham said the two companies will consider each other as competitors. He speculated Sobeys would recognize Safeway's good standing in the community as one of the assets it's buying.

"While it will ultimately be their decision, I would expect that our current general approach to giving back and supporting those communities where we operate will be retained," Graham said.

There's no question Safeway has the bigger corporate presence in Winnipeg, according to Michael Benarroch, dean of the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba, but Sobeys has only had a presence here since it acquired IGA stores in 1998.

He said the company has been "very generous" in the Maritimes where it's based, as well as out west.

"They're trying to be a big player in Central Canada, too. My suspicion is they will begin to play a much bigger role in community involvement (once the Safeway sale closes) more along the lines of what Safeway does. They'll find their place," he said.

Annitta Stenning, executive director of the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation, said Safeway has been a "wonderful" supporter since 2002. Since then, it has donated more than $1 million to the foundation and it was the founding sponsor of the Challenge For Life 20-km walk.

"Safeway has had a culture of supporting the community, not just as a corporation but with its employees, too," she said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 A9

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