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Natural Foods merger nixed

New Mexico partner no longer interested
La Montanita Co-op is no longer interested in a merger with Durango Natural Foods, saying DNF would not fit into its culture and the staff would not be happy being a part of the larger co-op. Members of the local co-op debated the value of the merger.

A giant Albuquerque food cooperative is no longer interested in merging with Durango Natural Foods, the local grocer announced in a news release Monday.

Word arrived the day after the majority of an unprecedented turnout of DNF members appeared to favor independence. The debate lasted two hours.

“We received word from the (general manager) of La Montanita (Co-op Foods) Terry Bowling that he is no longer interested in continuing the merger opportunity,” the statement said. “In a phone conversation the same day, he explained that the communication he had been receiving led him to believe that DNF would not fit into their culture nor would the staff be happy being a part of La Montanita Co-op.”

DNF board members have decided that for now it would be best for DNF to pursue its own path, the statement said.

La Montanita, however, remains ready to assist DNF with financial and administrative issues as it has for many years, the release said.

“To say the board is disappointed is an understatement,” the DNF release said. “Each of us has worked tirelessly to devote more time than usual to this exciting possibility.”

The letter of intent to merge, about which opponents said they were kept in the dark, was only a starting point for discussions, the statement said.

It appears that a merger could have occurred as early as October. But at the DNF meeting Aug. 18, board chairman Geoff Wolf said the meeting was only the first of several to debate the value of a merger.

Merger proponents say that DNF has struggled to stay afloat for 40 years. La Montanita gave DNF financial help and encouragement over the years. A merger would have increased its buying power through bulk purchases, and it was expected to lead to lower prices. However, estimates of how much prices might drop were not detailed at meetings.

Opponents said the much larger La Montanita would have overwhelmed DNF, bringing anonymity to an organization well-recognized in the community.

DNF employees feared their jobs would become unrecognizable or disappear under Montanita management.

Kimberly Wiggins, co-general manager of the DNF outlet, is pleased with the turn of events.

“I feel this gives our members time to consider options,” Wiggins said. “A merger is still possible, but now we can consider what our future will be.”

There were too many unknowns in the proposed merger, Wiggins said.

“We now have an opportunity to decide whether we merge with La Montanita or work cooperatively with them,” she said.

At the Aug. 18 meeting, merger opponents distributed two sheets for signatures. One proposal urged outright rejection, the second that a decision be postponed until the annual DNF meeting in April.

La Montanita has 17,000 members and operates six stores in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Gallup and a regional distribution center.

DNF has 1,800 members and a lone store at College Drive and East Eighth Avenue.

The DNF board had no intention of pushing a merger down the throat of its members, the statement said.

“We were not able to fully articulate the vision before short-sightedness on the part of relatively few, intervened in the process,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the communication plan the board decided upon was bypassed and ultimately brought the discussion to a premature and abrupt end.”

After a series of meetings, some with La Montanita members present, there would have been a vote on the merger, the statement said.


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