After an absence of 30 years, Red River Co-op is back in the grocery business.
Late last year, after Sobeys announced its purchase of Canada Safeway stores, the Manitoba-based Co-op acquired four of the former Safeway stores after the Competition Bureau ruled that Sobeys couldn’t keep all of the Safeway stores.
“It was a good opportunity for us to get back into the grocery business without having to do it building one store at a time,” said Red River Co-op general manager Doug Wiebe.
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The Co-op re-opened the Safeway stores under the Co-op logo one at a time in mid-May. All Safeway employees have been retained while Co-op is gradually changing the products on the shelf from Safeway brands to Co-op brands.
“One feature that we are adding is fresh meat,” Wiebe said. “We have butchers on hand to cut meat at three of the stores and will be supplying the fourth store with fresh meat from one of the other stores.”
Co-op has also signed a deal with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to sell Bomber-brand products such as potato chips and granola bars as well as Bomber game tickets.
Wiebe noted that the Co-op is also considering operating liquor kiosks in the stores, something that its parent company, Federated Co-op in Alberta, has been doing profitably for some time.
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The Co-op grocery stores are continuing to offer pharmacy deli and floral services but are not continuing Safeway’s Air Miles program. However co-op members do receive 3%-4% returns each year on their purchases.
“The public response so far has been incredible,” Wiebe said. “Our stores have been very busy.”