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Colorado to lead investigation into proposed grocery merger

Robyn Vincent
Sarah Fotis, assistant bakery manager at the King Soopers in Denver's Capitol Hill neighborhood, during the United Food and Commercial Workers Local Seven strike in January. Union leaders say a proposed merger between King Soopers' parent company Kroger and Albertsons, which owns Safeway, could put many workers out of jobs and hurt union members' bargaining power.

State Attorney General Phil Weiser announced Colorado will lead a multi-state investigation into the proposed grocery merger between Kroger, parent company of King Soopers, and Albertsons, which owns Safeway.

The $25 billion dollar merger has major implications for Colorado, where the two companies operate a huge portion of grocery stores.

Weiser emphasized the disproportionate impacts the merger would have on rural communities during a press conference Thursday.

“It is not plausible to tell someone in Cortez, ‘Oh, you can drive to Grand Junction for an alternative supermarket.’ That's just not plausible. And we are very mindful of those concerns,” he said.

The multi-state investigation is one of several steps Weiser’s office is taking in response to the proposed merger. He also filed a complaint to block Albertsons from paying out $4 billion to its investors ahead of a federal and state review. Weiser’s complaint supports one filed by Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Weiser says the merger could mean higher prices for Coloradans, lower wages for workers, and fewer jobs. “We will be investigating each of these concerns very carefully, and it's important that we hear from the people of Colorado,” he said.

In the new year, Weiser will hold public community forums across the state to gather feedback from residents about the merger.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, the union representing workers at both grocers, has been sounding the alarm with similar concerns.

“These two big companies coming together like that, I mean, they're going to take over in some areas more than 50% of the market share or even greater. And that's going to have a big impact,” Kim Cordova, union president, told KUNC in October. Her union is working with Weiser to examine the potential fallout from such a merger.

Cordova says another impact that stretches beyond workers is the potential for store closures to create food deserts across the state. She pointed to Albertsons’ acquisition of Safeway in 2015 when it shut down more than 40 stores in the region.

“We believe that there's going to be potentially significant closures here in Colorado,” Cordova said.

The two companies maintain the proposed merger will save millions in operating costs and help them reduce prices.

I am an investigative reporter on KUNC's investigative desk. I'm interested in our region's appetite for — and aversion to — equity, whether that's in housing, healthcare, education, politics or policy.