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Co-op merger gets go-ahead from Homestead members

Emily Distefano

 
Homestead Co-op members overwhelmingly voted “yes” on the proposed partnership with Portage Co-op on Monday night. Pictured: Homestead Co-op Board President Liza Penner and General Manager Jason Rheault were pleased with the results, although the Portage membership hadn’t voted yet. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Homestead Co-op members overwhelmingly voted “yes” on the proposed partnership with Portage Co-op on Monday night. Pictured: Homestead Co-op Board President Liza Penner and General Manager Jason Rheault were pleased with the results, although the Portage membership hadn’t voted yet. (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Homestead Co-op members voted overwhelmingly in favour of amalgamating with Portage Co-op on Monday night.

Just over 100 members from Homestead Co-op gathered at the Carman Active Living Centre on April 2 to have their say on the proposed partnership.

The meeting began with remarks from Co-op Board President Liza Penner, before Director Scott Jonhston gave a presentation on the merits of the proposed merger.

Johnston said the overall goal of the merger is to offer better value to members and ensure long-term sustainability.

Benefits that he talked about include better profit margins, better competitiveness, more opportunities for training and staff retention and cost-sharing on future technological initiatives.

He noted that around 30 to 40 per cent of groceries are bought outside of Homestead Co-op’s communities, making larger businesses in larger centres their main competition.

And since many of those larger businesses have been growing in size, and amalgamating with other large businesses, they have been able to gain a more competitive position in the market.

During the question and answer period, there were only a handful of queries from the audience. The most common question involved pricing: why the Co-op’s prices are sometimes higher than nearby stores, and how exactly this merger could help bring prices down.

Johnston said the Co-op currently has higher costs than some of it competitors.

“We want to narrow the gap, so we’re more competitive and more people can buy their groceries in Carman, in Treherne, in La Salle,” he said.

General Manager Jason Rheault noted that there are a number of ways costs could be reduced. The two Co-ops will be able to order at a larger volume together, which should reduce some service fees based on volume, for example. General increased efficiencies are expected to result in savings of $75,569 per year.

When the question and answer period ended, the members voted by secret ballot.

The results were tallied right away: 91 votes for the merger and 11 against.

The “for” vote represented 89.2% of those present.

“We’re very pleased that the community has confidence in the decisions that we’re making for the Co-op,” said Penner after the meeting. “We do feel that this is a step in the right direction for all of Homestead Co-op in all of our locations.

“It was a very strong majority, and you never know what to expect. We hadn’t heard a lot of apprehension from people and we were hoping that was a positive sign.”

Portage Co-op members are scheduled to vote on the issue on Tuesday night. If their vote goes through, the merger will move forward and become official next year.

The new Co-op will be named Homestead Co-op and will cover 16 locations in seven communities.

Penner said that as long as that vote goes through, the Co-op Board’s next steps will include lots of planning.

“No jobs will be lost, but there may be some shifting of roles and responsibilities in some way,” she said, noting that that will be up to the operations managers.

For customers, nothing will change until the February of 2019. Both Co-ops will continue to operate as separate entities until Feb. 3, when the merger will officially take place. At that time, Homestead Co-op members will be adding the prefix “80” to the beginning of their Co-op numbers.

Penner noted that both boards share the same values, which is vital to the partnership, and she is looking forward to being able to make an even bigger impact with a larger Co-op.

“Both boards are very progressive boards that want to see co-ops very active in their own communities,” she said. “That’s one thing that I felt very comfortable [about] after discussions with Portage, how involved they are. When I think of Co-op in Carman, because this is where I live, you see we’re around. When there are things to be done, people are looking at Homestead Co-op to be a part of it. And Portage is every bit as community-minded that way. That was key for me.”

And she thanked the members for their support.

“We appreciate the member support in all of our communities and we look forward to enhancing the services we provide for them,” she said. “We are not doing this because we want to stop being involved, we want it to only become ‘better together.’ And we couldn’t do these things without the membership.”

She added that board members or Co-op management are always more than willing to talk to members about any questions, concerns or requests they may have.

“We can’t always guarantee that we can come through on everything, but if we don’t hear from people what they’re needing then we’re only guessing,” she said.

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edistefano@postmedia.com