Monday, March 29, 2010

Wal-Mart and the locavores

Food, Inc. does a wonderful job of complicating Wal-Mart for everyone. On the one hand, it shows how its foray into organic milk and other organic groceries correlates with the influx of the mega-food companies like Kraft into organics. But on the other hand, its investment shows two other things: first, that we as dairy eaters want more humane and healthier (for human consumption and the land) dairy and second that its desires moved to a better end can reduce ecological impacts that we have on the environment. But is that the end of it? Apparently not.

In this article on MSNBC, "The great grocery smackdown," the Wal-Mart complicates itself further. What if it invests in local or regional agriculture? Not always organic, but local. Can it give Wegman's, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's a run for their money? Well, in the world of money, Wal-Mart's business model is still unrivaled. [pic at right from MSNBC]
As everyone who sells to or buys from (or, notoriously, works for) Walmart knows, price is where every consideration begins and ends. Even if the price Walmart pays for local produce is slightly higher than what it would pay large growers, savings in transport and the ability to order smaller quantities at a time can make up the difference. Contracting directly with farmers, which Walmart intends to do in the future as much as possible, can help eliminate middlemen, who sometimes misrepresent prices. Heritage produce currently accounts for only 4 to 6 percent of Walmart’s produce sales, McCormick told me (already more than a chain might spend on produce in a year, as Fishman would point out), adding that he hopes the figure will get closer to 20 percent, so the program will “go from experimental to being really viable.”
What do you think? Can the Wal-Mart juggernaut be a force for good in this movement? Will it take over and turn local agriculture to its own interests? Where are its interests? I wonder if this is the corporatization and a new kind of shell game for powerful people's convenience that replaces the Department of Ag with Wal-Mart. The article's closing speaks to this indirectly:
In an ideal world, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people can’t do that. If there were a Walmart closer to where I live, I would probably shop there.
But what do you think? Is this where we should be going with our food system? Is this where you want to go with your and your community's food system?

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Hat-tip to Mike for the article.

1 comment:

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