Wal-Mart: Lettuce Think Global, Act Local


The 800-pound gorilla — or, more precisely, $405-billion behemoth — of global retailing is entering the “locally produced” derby. And locally produced food probably never will be the same.

Wal-Mart plans to dramatically increase the locally grown produce it purchases from U.S. farmers over the next five years. And in emerging markets including China and India, the ever-expansive chain plans to sell $1 billion worth of food grown by a million small and medium farmers – and, to boot, train them in using water, pesticides and fertilizer more efficiently.[more]

All of this will provide a significant boost to the burgeoning locally-grown movement, which began among foodies and environmentalists and lately has become a mainstream trend, propelled by more and more food, beverage and retail brands — much like the adoption of organic food products several years ago.

But leave it to Wal-Mart to blow things out of the box again when it decides to do something. Clearly its initiative will comprise the biggest effort to date by any retailer, anywhere, to cater to customers’ increasingly local tastes.

As AP notes, “If Wal-Mart meets its goals in the U.S., local produce will still make up only 9 percent of the produce it sells. But because of the the retailer’s sheer scale, it has the potential for a sizable impact. More than half of Wal-Mart’s $405 billion is annual revenue is from food.

 Wal-Mart also intends to source 30% of its produce in Canada (where today it was defeated by union organizers covering two provinces) locally by the end of 2013, and set a goal of 100% when local sources are available.

And as only Wal-Mart can do, it also plans to “train 1 million farmers and farm workers in emerging markets in crop selection, sustainable farming practices and other subjects and selling $1 billion in food sourced from 1 million small and medium-sized farmers,” AP adds.

The initiative, if it goes to plan, will represent a great feather in the cap of Wal-Mart for its growing attention to “green” things that matter not only to its customers and employees but to the public at large. It already has been getting kudos from environmental groups for the potential positive impact of this new program.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart already has reduced its environmental footprint in many ways. Besides its corporate sustainability promises, it has launched innovative programs in health care for its employees and customers. By its sheer purchasing power, it saves the typical American shopper thousands of dollars eachyear — regardless of whether said shopper ever sets foot in a Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart management under relatively new CEO Mike Duke keeps finding new ways to delight its customers – and confound its ideologically oriented critics.