It’s a truism that smaller companies quake in their virtual boots when one of the market leaders decide to pay attention to their niche, but even with the overall increase in so-called natural food sales, it’s darn interesting to see that the original 800 pound gorilla of retail, Wal*Mart, has announced an aggressive move into organics.
According to an interesting story from the Associated Press:
“Putting new items on the shelf this year, from organic cotton baby clothes to ocean fish caught in ways that don’t harm the environment, is part of a broader green policy launched last year to meet consumer demand, cut costs for things like energy and packaging and burnish a battered reputation.”
We occasionally find ourselves in the local super Walmart here in Colorado (frankly it’s kind of like touring a Chinese manufacturing exhibit, if y’know what I mean) and I have noticed that the company is slowly moving more and more organics into its produce area, just as Safeway is also trying to retain some of the customers who would otherwise go to Whole Foods or Wild Oats or a smaller natural foods store.
Indeed, it’s my opinion that Whole Foods is moving as fast as it can towards the general non-organic inventory of a Safeway just as fast as our local Safeway is pushing into organics and natural food. Someday they’ll meet and we’ll have even more confusion in the marketplace about where to go for what…
But the most interesting point that this AP article makes isn’t about Wal*Mart’s decision to add more organic and natural inventory to its stock, but the impact that their buying power can have on the environment and agriculture:
“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is throwing its weight behind organic products, a move that experts say could have the same lasting effect on environmental practices that Wal-Mart has had on prices by forcing suppliers and competitors to keep up.”
It’s all about scale and scope:
“What makes Wal-Mart’s efforts unique, sustainability experts say, is the retailer’s sheer size and the power that gives it in relations with suppliers. Wal-Mart works closely with suppliers to shape their goods, if they want them on the shelves of Wal-Mart’s nearly 4,000 U.S. stores and over 2,200 internationally.”
So, in an odd sort of way, I am glad to hear that Wal*Mart is trying to make some changes to lure in more affluent buyers, even if it poses a very real risk to the rest of the natural and organic retailers like Boulder-based Wild Oats Markets.
I also worry a bit that this can actually backfire, to be honest, and further dilute the “organic laws” that detail whether or not food can be genetically altered, etc., and still be labeled organic, but I’ve been watching those laws dilute as more corporate agribusiness get into this segment anyway.
So tell me, what do you think?
I know it’s rather trendy to be anti-Wal*Mart and to be appalled by the great strength of the company and at what I believe are the inevitable results of our commoditized, foreign-made merchandise future, but if there was a gentler, more environmentally friendly Wal*Mart, would you be willing to give them some of your business next time you go grocery shopping? What about the vast swath of people who don’t have access to a natural foods store and might find this their first exposure to non-processed foods? Could this be a good way for more natural foods to be accessible by a larger populace?