(March 31, 3:56 p.m.) Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has informed suppliers that it will begin charging fees for product recalls.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has told its suppliers it will assess a minimum fee of $20 per store and item number that is withdrawn, removed or recalled for a Wal-Mart store or distribution center. Wal-Mart also will charge a minimum of $50 per store for product disposed of at the store level.

“It’s not a big surprise,” said one Wal-Mart supplier, who requested anonymity. “To be honest, other chains have things that are similar.”

The source said that retailers often have provisions in their supplier agreements that allow for such charges, but fees often go uncollected in the case of products recalled because of minor defects, such as labeling errors.

He said retailers do level assessments against suppliers in more damaging cases, such as the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to spinach.

The source said the per-store and per-item fees are slightly different from what the industry has seen in the past. The source said retailers more commonly charge dumping fees that multiply the number of packages being disposed of by the retail price.

Wal-Mart intends for the fees to cover increased labor costs associated with recalls, and the retailer told suppliers that it reserves the right to recover lost profits from suppliers in addition to the fees. Suppliers also will be responsible for shipping costs and handling fees.

Wal-Mart has nearly 2,500 Supercenters nationwide, but the source noted that most suppliers don’t have product in all of them, instead supplying specific distribution centers. However, a processor recalling fresh-cut product with several stock-keeping units could face steep fines.

“If you’re in the middle of a recall, you’ve got much bigger problems,” the source said. “The product is a much bigger issue than the fees.”

Ron McCormick, Wal-Mart’s vice president and divisional merchandise manager for produce and floral, could not be reached for comment March 27. A Wal-Mart spokeswoman did not respond to an interview request before deadline.

Three other Wal-Mart suppliers contacted by The Packer were unaware of the new policy.