While many states are in a "meltdown" over the possibility of grocery stores closing as part of a controversial mega-merger, there have been no announcements about any of the involved stores closing in Montana.

However, the proposed merger between Kroger and Albertsons is still very fluid. And the coming months could bring at least a name change for some of the popular store brands here in the Treasure State.

It's all driven by the effort to adjust the deal to meet the demands of the Federal Trade Commission, which needs to sign off on the merger, which the companies say are needed to remain competitive. 

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A deal with emerging details

Last fall, officials of the two potential partners announced plans to sell off 413 stores involved in the merger to clear anti-trust hurdles, as well as some popular regional brand names to C&S Wholesale Grocers. The 100-year-old company owns thousands of stores, including the popular Piggly Wiggly in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. along with some stores in California, Oregon, and Hawaii.

That list of stores to be sold included 13 Albertsons stores in Idaho, 104 Albertsons and Kroger stores in Washington, and 49 of both brands in Oregon, along with stores in Colorado, California, and New Mexico.

12-Albertsons stores are included on the list, from a combination of unspecified locations in Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

Store sales, not closures

In a statement issued this week, Kroger said the company is "committed to protecting good-paying union jobs, with no store closures or frontline associates laid off as a result of the merger." The company went on to say it's working with federal regulators to iron out details, although that's taking longer than expected.

We currently anticipate that the closing will occur in the first half of Kroger's fiscal 2024. -Krogers

However, that hasn't cooled the growing concern over the merger among unions and state officials, with Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson suing to block the merger on Monday.

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What happens in Montana?

The picture remains unclear and is complicated by grocery store changes in times past. When Albertsons took over the much-loved Buttrey's stores in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota in 1998, it also said it wouldn't close stores. 15 were offloaded to SuperValu and Smith's Food and Drug stores, although a story by Boise Dev last year found all but two of those stores had subsequently closed.

There were similar concerns when Albertson's and Safeway merged in 2015. But in locations like Hamilton, both brand stores were kept open.

Hamilton Safeway one of a handful still operating in Montana; Dennis Bragg photo
Hamilton Safeway one of a handful still operating in Montana; Dennis Bragg photo
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Albertson's has 30 locations in Montana including 7 in Billings and 4 in Missoula. There are only 9 Safeway locations still operating, including in larger cities like Butte, Bozeman, and Helena. But the balance is in smaller towns like Hamilton, Dillon, Whitefish, and Deer Lodge, where supermarket choices are more limited.

How the dozen Albertsons stores on the list in "Montana, Wyoming, and Utah" fit into that mix remains to be explained. But Kroger's statements would indicate those will see name changes transitioning to C&S, and not outright closures.

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Gallery Credit: Ashley Warren

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