Wal-Mart banks on scale to leverage local produce - The Packer

Wal-Mart banks on scale to leverage local produce

02/26/2013 10:25:00 AM
Tom Karst

WalmartWASHINGTON, D.C. — Wal-Mart’s vice president of produce and floral says the retailer’s scale and leverage can mean rapid expansion of its local food and sustainability initiatives.

Wal-Mart not only has the power to induce change, Dorn Wenninger said, but executives are evaluated on how they reach those goals.

Wenninger spoke Feb. 22 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2013 Agricultural Outlook Forum.

He outlined Wal-Mart’s commitment to local growers, which he said is driven by the 100 million consumers who shop its stores every week. Wenninger said that 40% of Wal-Mart’s customers say that locally grown food is important to them and almost all shoppers’ value freshness.

“Our consumers equate local with freshness,” he said.

Dorn WenningerWal-Mart defines local produce as produce grown and sold in the same state. In 2010, the company said it would double local produce on the shelves by 2015, and Wenninger said the retailer has added “hundreds of millions” in local produce sales and is on track to hit that goal. All 50 states have locally grown programs for Wal-Mart, and the chain is recognizing local growers with in-store and media marketing efforts, he said.

Wenninger said sourcing local produce isn’t without challenges. The irony is that local produce can sometimes be more expensive to deliver, he said.

“Because of scale and the challenges of logistics, it is frequently more costly to deliver local produce here in Washington, D.C., that comes from Virginia than it is to deliver whole loads of apples from Yakima, Wash., due to the economies of scale and efficiencies involved,” he said.

Working with smaller growers to meet the needs of Wal-Mart’s size can bring surprises, he said.

Two years ago, Wal-Mart arranged to buy from watermelon from growers in Tuskegee, Ala. Those growers assumed they were to supply 17 pickup loads, but the chain was expecting 17 tractor trailer loads, he said. This summer, those watermelon growers in have geared up to supply between 100 and 300 truckloads of watermelons to Wal-Mart.

Wenninger said Wal-Mart has begun to use its national scale to focus on local foods.

Part of that was done by reorganizing produce purchasing. Several years ago the chain created two levels of buyers.

While retaining produce purchasing in Bentonville, Wal-Mart opened offices in California, Washington, Texas and Florida. Those offices are staffed with produce buyers knowledgeable about local fruit and vegetable production.

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Iowa  |  February, 27, 2013 at 08:13 AM

It would be nice if Dorn Wenninger could use his 20+ years of experience in the food industry to clean up Wal-mart's produce supply chain. I have stopped buying produce at wal-mart because it inevitably rots in less than a week, giving me and my family hardly any time to eat it. Sure the ripest fruit looks good on the shelf, but something that is literally a day or two away from being rotten is not what I want to buy. I can't afford to throw money away like that.

Texas  |  February, 27, 2013 at 08:58 AM

Shana is spot on. Wal-Marts' produce deptartment is a joke.

Scott Lutocka    
Indianapolis  |  February, 27, 2013 at 09:26 AM

I find it interesting that nothing was mentioned about the Food Safety Practices of Local Farmers. Is Wal-Mart going to give these farmers a pass regarding Food Safety Practices? The Canteloupes grown from one farm in southwestern Indiana last year that contained Listeria should not be summarily dismissed as an isolated instance. This farmer's negligence killed 36 people and sickened some 400+ others. I hope that Wal-Mart does its due diligence by requiring Food Safety for all growers.

February, 27, 2013 at 10:53 AM

It is what you get when low price is the main motivator.

paige burns    
North Carolina  |  February, 27, 2013 at 11:45 AM

While a hundred plus people were sicken by the cantaloupe incident in Indiana, I don't believe anyone was killed. Those unfortunately were related to the incident in Colorado at Jensen farm. I've noticed the media lumping numbers of sickened and killed by cantaloupe related food outbreaks in Colorado, Indiana, and North Carolina into one group. I don't believe anyone was even identified as getting sick from the NC episode, just that Listeria (I think it was) was found in routine testing.

Paul Teague    
Arkansas  |  February, 27, 2013 at 12:12 PM

The listeria problem was two years ago in Colorado. last summer it was salmonella in Indiana that killed 3 and made about 40 sick

Shelbyville Ky  |  February, 27, 2013 at 03:20 PM

Has anyone though about a Farmers Market in the Walmart Parking lot.

Paul Sawyer    
February, 28, 2013 at 11:24 AM

You straighten em out Brother!!! See you in Evansville. Let's talk ponies

Tim Brady    
Tennessee  |  February, 28, 2013 at 03:57 PM

No they do not give a pass for a "local" farmer to sell to Walmart that farmer must be willing to invest nearly $100,000 for all the necessary bells and whistles that are required. A bit out of the range of the vast majority of local produce farmers.

February, 28, 2013 at 10:53 PM

Sure can tell you are not a farmer or in the business of food production! If you are that concerned about good safety - Grow your own! Or better yet, go work in the produce production farms, only then should you be educated about food safety. Farmer Paulette

Idaho  |  March, 01, 2013 at 10:21 AM

As has been pointed out; your facts are wrong. In the future you should educate yourself better before making blanket comments such as this. You also imply that food safety is the sole responsibility of the farmer. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire chain is responsible for food safety, right down to the consumer. In fact, as the final link in the chain, the consumer is probably the most important member when it comes to being sure that he or she is providing themselves or their families with safe to eat produce. One simple thing done in the home kitchen would most likely have prevented most if not all of these illnesses and deaths. Wash ALL of your produce prior to eating it. Yes, the industry has a responsibility to provide the safest possible food to the consumer. But the consumer also has the responsibility for preparing it correctly and to established standards. I also believe that as an industry, partnered with the FDA and USDA we are not doing enough to educate the consumer about the importance of simply washing and prepping their produce when they get it home. However, there is a pretty good website provided by the FDA that gives excellent information for consumers: http://www.foodsafety.gov/ We can prevent/eliminate food safety incidents but it will take everyone in the chain from the farmer to the consumer to do it.

Chris Sawyer    
Asheville, NC  |  March, 05, 2013 at 08:34 AM

I'd love to selll to walmart, but as this article state they are not interested in less than a tractor trailer load, AND the super metrics they require for food safety are ridiculous expensive; small famers cannot afford all the third party inspections they require. These bacteria, listeria, ecoli, and many others are ubiquitous, in other words they are everywehre. No one can make all food safe for all people,, and people are stupid when it comes to food. They think the farmer can make it safe... no it gets touched by all sorts of people in the supply chain and comingled with other. We have tried to get Walmart to allow farmer's markets many times... they won't support us unless they get the profits and screw the small farmer out of his wages. Walmart is just as evil as Monsanto in my book as far as stiffling small businesses. I would not buy from them if they were the last store on Earth.

ken whitaker    
wv  |  March, 05, 2013 at 03:13 PM

I have a small produce market and go to Asheville farmers market as well as others I would like to buy from you

john white    
radford va  |  March, 05, 2013 at 03:29 PM

I have a friend that works at WAL-MART in the produce and told me most of it don't even come from the US people need to stop buying anything from them !!! Go back to the mom and pop way of Life. their getting to damn big all we are to them is a dollar. money is all they want shop at small stores or stay home!

Kathy Means    
Newark, DE  |  March, 06, 2013 at 01:53 PM

Consumer education about safe produce handling is very important. Take advantage of free consumer education resources from the Partnership for Food Safety Education. We can all start with our families, friends, employees, and communities. http://www.fightbac.org/campaigns/produce-handling

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