Waiting For Walmart

I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but we were discussing the issue of food regulation at our PACE Advisory Council when one of our Washington insiders piped in with a conversation-changing comment:

“If you think it’s difficult working with the government and EPA, just wait until Walmart is your regulator.”

It’s like one of those jokes someone tells that takes a few moments before the entire crowd gets it — but the more the people around the table thought about it, and then discussed it, the more they got it. As the world’s largest retailer of food, Walmart could, if it decided today, turn the food production industry upside down with a laundry list of demands regarding what is grown, how it is grown, how it is processed and packaged … name a variable that’s controllable, and they could insist it be controlled and documented.

Within the walls of our company, we have witnessed one of the most significant rearrangements of the cosmos you could imagine in the fresh plant industry, orchestrated by “big box” stores like Walmart and Home Depot. Two of our sister publications, Greenhouse Grower and Today’s Garden Center, have had an fascinating front row seat to the changes.

It used to be that growers of all shapes and sizes and specialties would vie for Home Depot business by offering quality plants at competitive prices — a great system for growers, but woefully inefficient for the retailer.

The solution was actually counter intuitive. Rather than control everything, which would require more overhead and oversight, Home Depot chose to control nothing. Nothing, that is, except for the rules of engagement.

Growers interested in producing plant material for Home Depot would need to be responsible for the plant material, from seed or cutting (including stocking and maintenance) up until the bar code on the plant is waved over the scanner. For that millisecond, the plant would be owned by Home Depot, and just as quickly relinquished to the consumer.

Richard Jones, my cohort who oversees editorial in our greenhouse and garden center markets, says that only a handful of growers now deliver all the plant material to Home Depot stores under these rules. The rest are growers who supply Home Depot’s suppliers, and who assuredly operate at a higher level of efficiency to keep the shelves stocked.

Richard admits that it ultimately improved the efficiency of a pretty disjointed production and distribution channel, but the point is, it changed radically.

Back to food production. In mid-January, I was in Kansas City preparing to give a talk when I received a New York Times article. The piece outlined Walmart’s plan to lower the sugar, unhealthy fat and excessive sugar content of its packaged foods, and take steps to lower the price of the vegetables and fruits it sells.

It was only a matter of time. Walmart has the buying power, a keen interest in sustainability and a desire to lead in these sorts of social issues. And it’s not likely to stop there.

How this ultimately evolves, and how long it takes, is anybody’s guess. But everyone up and down the crop production channel will need to be looking downstream at food retailers and consumers, and considering how to be sustainable and successful in a changing market.

Leave a Reply

Paul Schrimpf Stories

Paul SchrimpfWorking With Walmart
June 2, 2014
It's critical for agriculture to have seats at the table as the mega-retailer works out its definition of sustainability. Read More

Trending Articles

Retail FacilitiesWaconia Manufacturing Builds Facility Designed For Speed, Efficiency
July 7, 2014
To make its new hub facility more efficient, Cooperative Elevator enlisted the aid of Waconia Manufacturing. Read More
EquipmentSummer Show Preview 2014: Superior Sprayers Take The Field
July 3, 2014
In this final installment of our coverage of the major categories of Big IRON that retailers can expect to test-drive at this summer’s events, here is a look at 19 sprayers. Read More
Scouting a soybean patch at Green Valley Ag.
EmployeesCropLife Compensation Survey: Battling Talent Drain
July 2, 2014
Retailers too often lose employees to companies outside of agriculture, while recruiting efforts are most often limited to competitors and other ag-focused organizations. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences Introduces SureStart II Herbicide
June 16, 2014
The enhanced formulation has improved viscosity and increased stability under heat and controls more than 60 high-anxiety grasses and broadleaf weeds found in corn fields. Read More
HerbicidesBASF Investing $270 Million To Expand U.S. Herbicide Production
June 11, 2014
BASF has invested more than $270 million to expand herbicide production capacities in the U.S., including more than 20 new products to be launched over next two years. Read More
EquipmentGPS: 25 Years And Still Growing
June 2, 2014
The evolution of global positioning systems applications in agriculture remains ongoing as the technology hits a notable milestone. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100Pinnacle Forms Alliance With Wildlife Managment, Seed O…
July 25, 2014
The strategic alliance will provide Tecomate with key wildlife products, processing facilities, distribution centers and sales through Pinnacle’s ever-growing retail network. Read More
ManagementFranken Presses White House On RFS Support
July 25, 2014
Al Franken and a group of Senate democrats recently met with senior White House official John Podesta to urge the administration to change its position on an EPA proposal. Read More
ManagementASA, FarmLink To Launch ‘Operation Benchmark̵…
July 25, 2014
The American Soybean Association (ASA) and FarmLink are teaming up to help farmers close the $11 billion gap between what they harvested in 2013 and what they could harvest annually. Read More
StewardshipNorthey: Farmers Commit $1.4 Million to Try New Water Q…
July 25, 2014
The practices that are eligible for funding include cover crops, no-till or strip till and using a nitrification inhibitor when applying fall fertilizer. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learn How Changing World Will Impact Iowa
July 24, 2014
Technology and understanding global consumer demand for Iowa farm products brought hundreds of farmers and agribusiness leaders to Ames recently for the annual Iowa Farm Bureau Federation Economic Summit. Read More
HerbicidesPurdue: Late Season Weeds May Require Manual Removal
July 24, 2014
Hand-rouging and pulling late season weeds by hand may be the best way to remove them, more so than using a herbicide, a Purdue Extension weed scientist says. Read More
Soybean Field
InsecticidesTransform WG, Closer SC Insecticides Receive R&D 10…
July 23, 2014
Dow AgroSciences has received the award from R&D Magazine for Transform WG insecticide and Closer SC insecticide with Isoclast active. Read More
EquipmentKinze, Raven Team Up On 4900 Planter Monitor
July 23, 2014
Kinze Manufacturing announces a partnership with Raven Industries to develop a standalone monitor solution for the Kinze 4900 series planter. With this new Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Continues To Confuse As Growers Await USD…
July 23, 2014
The new five-year Farm Bill eliminates many of the direct payments previously payed to growers and could benefit from USDA clarification, reports a Toledo Blade columnist. Read More
EquipmentPrecisionAg.com Relaunches With Responsive Design For M…
July 22, 2014
PrecisionAg, the worldwide leader in precision agriculture information and analysis, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, PrecisionAg.com. Read More
FungicidesEPA OKs Two Willowood Fungicides
July 21, 2014
The EPA has approved Willowood Azoxy 2SC and Willowood AzoxyProp Xtra. two widely used broad spectrum, preventative fungicides with systemic and curative properties. Read More
Precision AgFarmers Learning Fast As UAVs Take Off
July 17, 2014
Farmers and others interested in how UAVs can be used in agricultural applications were able to learn more about the technology during the recent Precision Aerial Ag Show. Read More
CropLife 100Bobby Knight, Richard Petty To Highlight Ag PhD Field D…
July 17, 2014
Attendees at the July 24 Ag PhD Field Day at Hefty Farms will learn about the latest agricultural technologies, and get a chance to meet legendary sports figures Bobby Knight and Richard Petty. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
July 17, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
A finished Willmar 16-ton side-shooting tender.
TendersNew Production Facility Helps Willmar
July 17, 2014
In 1963, a group of businessmen started Willmar. Today, a half-century later, the company is one of the ag industry’s longest-running brands. Read More
FertilizerCF Industries Sells Carbon Credits To Chevrolet, Donate…
July 17, 2014
CF Industries has completed the sale of a large block of carbon reduction credits to Chevrolet, and will donate the net proceeds of $600,000 to the National FFA Foundation. Read More
CropLife 100Grainland Cooperative, Minier Cooperative Grain To Merg…
July 17, 2014
The shareholders of Grainland Cooperative and Minier Cooperative Grain Co. approved a merger of company operations effective August 1, 2014. Read More
ManagementStudy: Drought Costing California Billions
July 17, 2014
A new study has found the drought has cost the state $2.2 billion, primarily in lost farm revenue and wages. Read More