Friday, October 13, 2006

The "green" giant?

When Wal-Mart announced this spring that it was going to start carrying more organic products, my initial reaction was that it would be nice to have another store in which to buy them. Maybe the products would be cheaper and more people would become interested in and able to buy organic.

In reading articles since the announcement, I've come to realize that (as usual) there's a lot more to the story than I first thought. Organic farmers and small companies are nervous about the negative effects that Wal-Mart may have on the industry. As the country's largest grocer, Wal-Mart wields tremendous buying power, and as such can make tough demands of suppliers that smaller companies can't, driving down the prices it has to pay -- and thus charge consumers.

I know that Wal-Mart isn't embracing organics out of any altruistic purpose -- its purpose is to make money, and organics is a burgeoning business. The company isn't interested in the ethics of organics, just the profit potential. So what effect is that business model going to have on the organics industry? As big a behemoth as Wal-Mart is, it seems unavoidable that it's going to have one of some sort.

There's a particularly interesting take on this issue from the New York Times magazine here.

A watchdog group called The Cornucopia Institute recently released a report saying that Wal-Mart is diluting the value of organics by buying products of questionable quality from Third World countries and giant factory-farms -- in effect creating a "new" definition of organic. You can read the white paper here.

With this in mind, I wandered around a local Wal-Mart a few weeks ago, looking for organic products. Had Wal-Mart become a great green machine since their spring announcement? On the whole, I didn't find there to be much to write home about yet. There were some organic products, sure, but I hardly felt like there was a great choice. But once that changes and organics become more than a token on the shelves, what then?

What effect do you think that Wal-Mart will have on the organics industry?


At 10/13/2006 9:06 PM, Blogger Countess said...

After living in Hollywood for 25 years and never having needed to step into a Wal-Mart, I find myself at Mt. Airy's Wal-mart at least once a week. In this town, it's a necessity.

If Wal-Mart wants to go organic, I say, "good for the little people". This country has outsourced just about everything, so to try and separate and define what is and isn't made in America is, at best, an impossible dream.

To me, after 35 years of vegetarianism and 3 of veganism, I look at it as mainstream progress. Whenever an individual is getting less pesticides into his/her system, we are looking at a brighter future, no matter whether it's Wal-Mart or your local independent organic farmer providing that future.

At 10/14/2006 10:43 PM, Blogger Cassandra said...

Thanks for your input, countess! If nothing else, Wal-Mart can bring organic products to people in smaller towns who don't have a lot of shopping options -- which is a good thing (and a good point).


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