After a 30-year absence, Red River Co-op is re-entering the Winnipeg grocery game.
On Feb. 13, Red River Co-op’s parent company, Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL), bought 14 Safeway stores from Sobeys Inc. across Western Canada, including four Winnipeg locations: 1441 Main St., 77 Vermillion Rd., 850 Dakota St. and 1120 Grant Ave.
In October, the Competition Bureau ordered that Sobeys sell 23 of its Canadian Safeway stores.
According to FCL, all 1,300 employees working at the Safeway stores involved in the transaction will retain their jobs.
"On Thursday (Feb. 13) we had individuals from our company at each of the four sites, as well as some representation from Safeway Canada, meet with staff and announce the news of the sale," said Doug Wiebe, Red River Co-op general manager.
"The response we got from the management and employee groups that we met with was all very positive, so we’re very happy about that,"
Wiebe said Winnipeggers should expect new Red River Co-op grocery stores to be open by late May at the latest.
He said he expects a smooth transition and is excited that Co-op is getting back into the grocery business, having not operated a food store in the city since 1983.
"It’s been on our radar for some time, as far as diversifying our business, but to get in with one store at a time would be a very difficult proposition, so the fact we can move into the market with four significant stores was a definite asset for us to take on this undertaking," Wiebe said.
Like Red River Co-op’s gas bars and convenience stores, the company’s grocery store model will be based on equity and cash back.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832, which represents Winnipeg’s Safeway employees, said the outlook is promising.
"That uneasiness of not knowing who is going to buy the stores, we now know that," said Blake Crothers, the union’s director of communications.
"The union has a good relationship with Federated Co-op, we have a warehouse here and other stores throughout the province, so it’s not a new employer that we don’t have a history with.
"Also, they’ve publicly stated they will be honoring the collective agreements."
Colleen Mackey, 55, a long-time Safeway shopper who lives near the 1441 Main St. location, said she’s open to shopping at Co-op, although she’s concerned about the availability of gluten-free products as she was recently diagnosed as celiac.
That said, she’s happy the employees will being carrying on at Co-op.
"I know a gentleman in here, Cam, an older gentleman, and I always talk to him. Everybody talks to me in there," Mackey said outside the Safeway.
Mike Whiteside, 43, a regular Safeway shopper who also resides close to the 1441 Main St. location, said it doesn’t make much difference to him who runs the grocery store.
"As long as my prescriptions are still filled here, it’s all good," he said outside the store.