(July 22, 5:49 p.m.) With the help of growers, retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., is drawing attention to its locally grown produce campaign with a series of events.

Hundreds of growers across the U.S. now provide produce sold in Wal-Mart stores, said Tiffany Moffatt, Wal-Mart’s corporate affairs director for the West. The company on July 18 highlighted one of those growers, Manteca, Calif.-based Van Groningen and Sons Inc., at the West Sacramento Wal-Mart. Manteca is about 50 miles south of West Sacramento.

“In the West Sacramento (Calif.) store, we carry more than 120 locally grown products,” said Tiffany Moffatt, the company’s corporate affairs director for the West. “Our partnerships with local farmers have grown by 50% over the last two years.”

Co-owner Dan Van Groningen, who was on hand for the event, said he sells watermelons, sweet corn and pumpkins to Wal-Mart. The retailer is a demanding but loyal customer, he said.

“They’re a tough receive, but I think they are fair,” Van Groningen said.

Wal-Mart is very concerned about supporting California growers, he said, and price alone does not dictate a sale to the retailer.

“They tell us as soon as those melons are ripe, we want those California watermelons,” Van Groningen said. “Even on those occasions when Mexican watermelons have been cheaper, Wal-Mart made it clear that it wants California melons.”

To support the local produce campaign, there are signs in the produce sections highlighting locally grown fruits and vegetables, Moffatt said.

“We’re really taking it to a new level by sharing our partnerships with local farmers,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be able to highlight some of our wonderful growers that we have in California.”

The success of the locally grown campaign is reflected in the e-mails he receives, Van Groningen said. The company’s e-mail address is on the stickers affixed to every watermelon.

“I get a lot of e-mails every day from customers,” he said. “Many thank us, say they want to support us and say they like our product.”

Van Groningen said he is seeing more loyalty among shoppers for locally grown produce.

Another advantage of the campaign, Moffatt said, is that it supports local economies across the nation. The retailer’s Web site, www.walmart.com/locallygrown, allows consumers to see what locally grown produce is available at the chain’s stores and features grower profiles and recipes.

The campaign, kicked off July 1 in Georgia, is not new to Wal-Mart strategy, Moffatt said. It’s just that more emphasis is being placed on alerting the buying public.

“Offering local produce is a priority for Wal-Mart. It always has been,” Moffatt said.

Others participating in the West Sacramento news conference included Mike Jarvis, deputy secretary of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and representatives from the National Watermelon Association and the Western Watermelon Association.

Wal-Mart plans events around locally grown focus
Henry Jordan, Regional Manager for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., talks about the company's commitment to support local growers during the Watermelon Event in West Sacramento.