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Durango Natural Foods pondering a merger

Co-op members talk about possibly linking with larger N.M. co-op
Durango Natural Foods cooperative members are weighing whether to merge with La Montanita based in Albuquerque for economic benefits or to maintain independence.

Members of Durango Natural Foods turned out in force Monday to get answers about talks held out of their earshot concerning a merger with an Albuquerque-based food cooperative.

The concern was a letter of intent to merge that would have solidified a relationship that has existed for decades. The merger could be finalized in October.

All that has changed. DNF Board Chairman Geoff Wolf said the Monday meeting was the first of several to find consensus among the 1,800 DNF members.

At the same time, members skeptical of merging with larger La Montanita passed around two petitions for signatures. One asked for outright rejection of the merger. The second asked postponement of a decision until the DNF annual meeting in April.

La Montanita dwarfs DNF. It has 17,000 members and operates six stores in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Gallup as well as a regional distribution center. DNF has 1,800 members and a lone store in Durango.

The pro-and-con stances Monday focused on whether DNF would gain much-needed purchasing power that La Montanita could provide or whether it would be swallowed up and virtually disappear.

La Montanita would provide a DNF store manager, a position DNF is trying to fill. Current DNF employees fear that a “similar” job under an outsider is too vague a term.

The DNF board has been negotiating for three months with La Montanita, apparently without the knowledge of its members,

Get the facts out in the open was the demand of those who oppose a merger. Wolf said the letter of intent is a preliminary look at a union.

Wolf said DNF doesn’t have to approve La Montanita proposed terms.

Several longtime members said La Montanita has provided DNF with technical and financial assistance through the years.

“They’ve been there for us,” one said.

A couple long-term members pointedly said some opponents of merger have not been active in the cooperative.

The Rocky Mountain Retreat where the meeting was held had standing-room only.

Opponents of a merger who see DNF becoming a northern outpost of La Montanita said both entities could be acquired by a national chain.

Two hours of back-and-forth didn’t seem to change opinions. The split seems to be whether to thrive and enjoy economic security or push ahead maintaining independence and relying on increasing local supply of “food without bar codes” as one young man said.

A staff member said DNF is making progress on meeting financial obligations.


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