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Skeptical of Walmart’s New Organic Line?

Skeptical of Walmart’s New Organic Line?

If you’ve not yet heard, Walmart has announced plans to release an affordable line of organic goods in partnership with Wild Oats. It sounds like every organic-lover’s dream — affordable organic foods. The prices are estimated to undercut organic brand-names by as much as 25%. Walmart even claims that their organic line will sell at a similar price point as their non-organic products. Wow! Theoretically, it would also usher in lower market costs all around for such products, due to increased supply and competition. It’s exactly what we’ve been waiting for! — or is it?

Walmart claims that organic foods currently command a premium because there isn’t as much supply to meet the once small demand. By upping the supply under their guidance, they believe organic goods could be shipped and sold for much cheaper. Which is true, up to a point. There may be a small premium associated with organic foods, because there is less supply and a relatively small (but still ever-growing) demand. The truth is, however, truly organic, sustainably farmed foods require more effort. That’s why they cost more. They receive drastically less subsidies from the government than conventional farms, which reflects in their respective price tags.

Organic farmers also have higher standards that require more labor with less yield. That’s why one organic tomato can cost the same as two or three non-organic tomatoes. Plus, organic certification is also a very pricey process. Farmers at your local farmer’s market aren’t necessarily charging more for their certified organic produce simply because they can. It is because they must to make any profit from their hours and hours of labor and overhead that organic farming entails. Although increased supply could lower prices a bit, it’s hard to believe that Walmart and its farmers can profit long-term with their proposed low prices along with all of that in contention.

Many are concerned that Walmart will cut corners on their organic goods to widen profit margins. Sacrificing the sustainability of the organic farming industry is one. It is feared that Walmart will buy out and promote small farmers to follow the bare minimum of requirements to boost profits, rather than enabling farmers to create the highest quality product in the most sustainable way possible. This could lead to  slash-and-burn farming and business practices, which would deplete small farmers and their soils within a matter of years while Walmart literally moves on to greener pastures. It is hoped that Walmart would take more care to not decimate the livelihood of its smaller suppliers and send a good chunk of the profits in their direction, but that doesn’t seem to be their M.O.

Regardless of the practices they may or may not employ, what Walmart doesn’t get is that organic food is not just a commodity from which to profit. It’s not even just about its health benefits. Organic is important because its rewards are cyclical, not unidirectional. Sustainable organic practices like integrating various types of produce and higher welfare standards, as opposed to the widespread practice of vast monocultures or cramped barns, keep the land and creatures nutritionally rich and fertile for the future. It benefits the environment, as well as native animals, our bodies, and our local economies. Sometimes, it’s not just about slashing price tags.

Ready or not, Walmart is introducing Wild Oats pantry staples into only about half of its US stores within the next month, to ensure that it will be able to supply all 4,000 in the near future. Target, eager to follow suit, is expanding its organic presence as well. What are your thoughts on these industrial moves towards affordable organics?

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Jordyn Cormier

Jordyn is a choreographer, freelance writer, and an avid outdoors woman. Having received her B.F.A. in Contemporary Dance from the Boston Conservatory, she is passionate about maintaining a healthy body, mind, and soul through food and fitness. A lover of adventure, Jordyn can often be found hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and making herself at home in the backcountry! Check out what else Jordyn has been up to at jordyncormier.com.

221 comments

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8:49AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

ty

8:43AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

This is what Walmart does.

I meant to add: Many are concerned that Walmart will cut corners on their organic goods to widen profit margins. Sacrificing the sustainability of the organic farming industry is one. It is feared that Walmart will buy out and promote small farmers to follow the bare minimum of requirements to boost profits, rather than enabling farmers to create the highest quality product in the most sustainable way possible. This could lead to slash-and-burn farming and business practices, which would deplete small farmers and their soils within a matter of years while Walmart literally moves on to greener pastures. It is hoped that Walmart would take more care to not decimate the livelihood of its smaller suppliers and send a good chunk of the profits in their direction, but that doesn’t seem to be their M.O.

Does this surprise you?

8:42AM PDT on Jul 15, 2014

This is what Walmart does!

6:37AM PDT on May 27, 2014

I do not do business with Wal-mart and even if they call it organic it would not be seasonal and for sure not local !

4:25PM PDT on May 17, 2014

maybe organic, but not local or seasonal. i'd rather get to know as many of the people that produce my food as i can.

1:53PM PDT on May 3, 2014

Bottom line to me is that, instead of making any real improvements in the way Walmart does business with vendors, or schedules & compensates their employees, they merely keep rolling out new schemes to focus our attention elsewhere- i.e. Wild Oats.

Their core business practices are corrupted and self-serving, yet it appears the execs will not make any attempt to change the very business practices that have caused many of us to boycott their stores.

1:33PM PDT on May 3, 2014

I agree with Jordyn's perceptive article. True, Walmart isn't the worst corporation out there, but they're the gorilla, so the rest of the retail industry meekly follows their lead. I would expect Walmart is going to find some means to corner the organic market. The big corporations are already trying to water down the organic standards and render the labels meaningless, and they have the dollars that can convince Walmart to join them. Our best bet is to buy from local farmer's markets. I've spoken with a lot of farmers who grow organically, but can't afford to pay for the certification or won't comply with the red tape that it requires. Also, I don't like the fact that Walmart and other retailers buy their produce from foreign countries and undercut our American farmers. BUY LOCAL!

12:09PM PDT on May 3, 2014

I don't shop at Walmart. I use organics exclusively but would never buy from it. How could you trust an organization with such a bad reputation. Their agenda will oust small farms which promote high standards. Does or will Walmart do this. NO. I will gladly pay the higher price to maintain ethical organic farming. My family's health is worth it.

8:27AM PDT on May 3, 2014

Thank you

4:51AM PDT on May 3, 2014

The more readily available organic and natural foods are made to the public the healthier people will be. And what is equally important for everyone to realize is that Walmart is hardly alone in destroying our country; on some level all big corporations are doing the same thing Walmart does. What is destroying our country is 'not buying American made products' and that starts with each one of our citizens, and our own government on every level.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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