Wal-Mart’s decision to buy more local produce expected to help Virginia farmers

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, is throwing its considerable weight behind the trend to eat local.  The company has announced a program to double the percentage of locally grown produce in its U.S. stores to 9 percent by 2015. 

Wal-Mart defines locally grown as produce grown and sold in the same state. The initiative, unveiled earlier this month, is part of a new sustainable agriculture strategy that aims to steer more business to small- and medium-sized farmers while also reducing farming’s environmental impact.
With 82 SuperCenters in Virginia, which typically include grocery departments, 16 Sam’s Clubs and one Neighborhood Market, the program creates an opportunity for farmers, according to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Wal-Mart’s efforts to increase its offering of local foods illustrates the increasing consumer demand for local food,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialists for the Farm Bureau. “ …With the list of retailers interested in local produce growing each year, this trend should continue to offer farmers an opportunity to increase their income.”

According to the Farm Bureau, some Wal-Mart stores in Virginia already carry peanuts and other local foods. The retailer plans to hold several grower meetings throughout Virginia to explain its supplier requirements. For farmers, Banks said such requirements probably will cover things such as packaging, washing and liability insurance. The retailer may also want to know how much fertilizer and pesticide was used per unit of food produced.

Ned Jeter of Roanoke County already sells produce to Kroger and has sold small quantities to Wal-Mart. He said in a statement released by the Farm Bureau that the benefit of selling to a big chain is “the volume of produce they purchase.” Plus, there’s a benefit to the retailer. “They’re getting really fresh produce.” 


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