The head of the federal Competition Bureau says he's confident a consent agreement with Sobeys Inc. to sell 23 stores in Western Canada, including five in Winnipeg, to other grocers will ensure consumers continue to benefit from competitive prices.
For its part, Sobeys says the stores it selected for divestiture were chosen because they are considered competitive and are likely to find buyers.
The decision was necessary following Sobeys' acquisition of Safeway because the two chains have many stores in close proximity to one another. The obvious concern was the merger would provide Sobeys with too much control over grocery prices.
There's no guarantee Sobeys will find grocers who want to take over all five sites in Winnipeg or elsewhere in Western Canada, partly because there aren't that many competitors available. Some stores will probably be sold, but others could remain in Sobeys' hands if buyers cannot be found. At that point, the chain would be free to close or sell them for other uses.
Under the consent agreement, buyers have to maintain at least 10,000 square feet for grocery products.
Sobeys is still likely to close some stores, meaning less service and farther drives or walks in some areas, but the federal agreement should strive to prevent the loss of strategic stores in under-served neighbourhoods.