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Taber Co-op tip of expansion iceberg

Posted on February 18, 2014 by Taber Times

Medicine Hat Co-op is expanding to Taber as the co-operative grocery brand continues to grow across Western Canada.

The local wing of the co-operative retailer will take over the Safeway retail outlet and related gas bar in Taber, it was explained Friday, one day after the announced purchase of 14 Sobeys and Safeway locations across the Prairies.

“It’s an excellent strategic fit that will strengthen all of our Co-ops across Western Canada,” said Scott Banda, CEO of Confederated Co-ops Ltd.

The sale, which stems from a Competition Board of Canada ruling on the Sobeys takeover of Safeway Canada last fall, also gives Co-op one new outlet each in Regina and Saskatoon.

Seven locations in Edmonton and the surrounding region, and four in Winnipeg mark a strong expansion into those major markets for Co-op.

The new operation in Taber is also an outward strike for the Medicine Hat Co-op, whose members will now be able to earn benefits of buying gas and groceries further west as well.

In reverse fashion, Taberites who sign up for memberships will earn benefits when they shop locally in Medicine Hat.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Rodger Vizbar, chair of the local Co-op board, which operates as far north as Oyen.

The changeover in Taber is tentatively scheduled for April 29, with a minimum disruption, perhaps one to two days, says Medicine Hat general manager Ted Rodych, who adds pharmacy service would continue at the site.

Employees will maintain their positions and operate under the existing collective bargaining agreement.

Local Co-op and Taber Safeway employees are both represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 401, but in different units.

Vizbar and Rodych both felt it was important to stress the benefits of the co-operative retailing and local profits to both employees and potential customers in Taber.

Over 10 years, the 250 Co-op food outlets in Western Canada have returned $4.1 billion in profits to local members.

“We might not have had a food store in Taber but we have a Co-op presence,” said Banda. “This will support all of our commodity brands.”

The territory of Taber falls under the auspices of South Country Co-op, which maintains retail fuel stops in Lethbridge, Taber, Brooks and Vauxhall, along with agro and liquor outlets in smaller markets.

Like all local Co-ops, South Country is independently owned by members but is jointly managed under agreement with Medicine Hat Co-op, which will independently own the Taber outlet.

“We felt it would be a better fit for Medicine Hat to take this on and expand our trading area down Highway 3,” said Rodych.

“Their priority hasn’t been in grocery sales, whereas we’ve been in that business for decades,” said Vizbar.

However, Medicine Hat Co-op will handle the new grocery operation and gas station on 52nd Street and 49th Avenue, while South Country will maintain the retail gas station at 64th Street and 46th Avenue, both near Highway 3. That sets up the situation where two different gas bars in Taber will be owned by two different Co-ops, with two sets of membership rights and cashback programs.

“We’re working towards some sort of solution to resolve how we address that,” said Rodych. “For this purchase it will start out as Medicine Hat but we will have a solution going forward.”

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