Food Buzz: Is Walmart the New Face of Local?

I think the most interesting news story this week was an article in The Atlantic, “The Great Grocery Smackdown,” which looks at how Walmart’s “Heritage Agriculture” initiative may change the face of local foods.   The program will encourage farms within a day’s drive of its warehouse to grow crops, reviving small farms that may have been outed by big industry competition.   With Walmart already expanded into the organic market, local foods seem the next likely business decision.  However, this development into local foods does pose challenges to overcome:

The obstacles for both small farm and big store are many: how much a relatively small farmer can grow and how reliably, given short growing seasons; how to charge a competitive price when the farmer’s expenses are so much higher than those of industrial farms; and how to get produce from farm to warehouse.

The author coordinates two identically prepared meals – one with ingredients from Whole Foods and another with ingredients from Walmart.  Though there were mixed reviews in the audience of food critics, bloggers and foodies, Walmart achieved status as a close runner-up to Whole Foods.

Walmart also implies a potential solution to access issues that Mrs. Obama addressed as “food deserts” in the “Let’s Move” campaign, making fresh produce more readily available across the country.  With one of the largest grocer’s in America (perhaps, the largest) supporting the local movement, will the impact be significant enough to build and sustain small, family-owned farms?   Will the growing popularity of Farmer’s Markets, supporting community and farm-to consumer relationships, hold tight?  While Walmart would be the last place I would think to go to find a taste of the region, it seems that big business and small business are aligning in this proposal in support of healthy eating.   That’s an enticing prospect difficult to ignore.

For details on Walmart’s venture, click here.

In related news, the Humane Society released a press-release confirming that Walmart’s private label (aka “Great Value”) eggs are cage-free.  Another big step in the right direction for big industry.

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4 responses to “Food Buzz: Is Walmart the New Face of Local?

  1. Walmart is pretty tough on suppliers–particularly about price. That downward price pressure seems not likely to help local farmers overcome that cost obstacle you mention. Maybe some of our ideas about sustainability should include economics. If the farmer’s profit is too small because Walmart pushes prices down–did it help them? Will(or can) the farms keep producing?

  2. Here in AZ, we’ve been talking to Walmart about at least putting local tags on items (food and otherwise) that come from Arizona. I am very involved in the LocalFirst movement and rather than take them on, it was our way of working with them. I really need to think a bit more about this post to decide how I feel.

    • Hi Tammy – LocalFirst? Would love to hear more about it. Great idea of talking to these big markets where so many people shop to help consumers identify foods produced locally…

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