A relatively tiny grocery chain based out of the Pacific Northwest, Haggen Food & Pharmacy, will be taking over at least three outlets for Albertsons in Santa Barbara County as part of a much bigger federal antitrust arrangement allowing a mega-merger between grocery titans Safeway and Albertsons.
Federal regulators have insisted that Albertsons and Safeway divest some of their holdings before the merger can be approved, thus allowing Haggen — an 18-store outlet headquartered in Bellingham, Washington — to buy 146 stores throughout five states and increase in size by more than 800 percent almost overnight. Haggen is privately owned, so the financial details have not been made public. In Santa Barbara, the outlets soon to change are the Albertsons on the Mesa and by the Five Points Shopping Center and one in Lompoc.
Company spokesperson Deborah Pleva said Haggen intends to honor all union contracts, adding, “We are enthusiastic about working with existing unions.” Pleva said that some of Haggen’s existing outlets are union and some are not. Rick Icaza, president of the Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770, praised the deal, saying Haggen has agreed to keep almost all of the union workers now employed, thus preserving not only union jobs but also the pensions and retirement packages of the workers involved. He noted that some Albertsons employees — if they have enough seniority — may choose to stay with Albertsons and transfer to one of the other stores in the area.
Icaza said he’d met with California Attorney General Kamala Harris to ensure the Albertsons were sold to a company that recognized the union contracts in place. Harris, he said, has independent authority to block the deal even with the federal government’s approval. Likewise, he said the union had retained antitrust specialists to fight the sale in court had a nonunion company been involved. Pleva said the transition will take place in a north-to-south trajectory, with a final deadline set for July 4. By that schedule, she said, the Santa Barbara transformation should take place closer to the summer.
Although Haggen started in 1933, the company was bought out in 2011 by Comvest, a privately held investment firm boasting more than $20 billion in assets. Since Comvest took over, Haggen had closed eight poorly performing outlets while simultaneously marketing itself far more aggressively as the destination of choice for food-conscious locavores. According to Pleva, Haggen has always made a point to buy fresh produce, meat, and seafood from local producers. And with the company growing from a 2,000-employee outfit to one of 10,000, she said it plans to expand that tradition in the new locations. Icaza described Haggen as a “cut above” operation, more akin to Gelson’s and Whole Foods than a standard Ralphs, Vons, or Safeway.