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

Green Valley Ag facility
Retail FacilitiesGreen Valley Ag Adopts A.J. Sackett’s Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology At New Facility
July 8, 2014
Sackett's Precision Fertilizer Blending® Technology is making huge strides around the world. Green Valley Ag adopts the technology at its new facility to support its advancing agronomic needs. Read More
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

Latest News

StewardshipMonsanto Joins Panel Of Innovators To Advance Research …
July 30, 2014
Monsanto Co. and The Climate Corp., its division, recently joined a roundtable of experts at the White House to share ideas and research approaches to help the world’s farmers manage and adapt to the impact of climate change on the global food supply. Read More
Crop InputsSoybean Checkoff Produces Big ROI
July 30, 2014
Under the soy checkoff program, all U.S. soybean farmers contribute a small percentage of their gross soybean sales for research and marketing projects that maximize their profit potential. Read More
CropLife 100Learfield Sports, CHS Agree To Football-Centric, Colleg…
July 30, 2014
CHS Inc. will embark on a highly integrated collegiate sports sponsorship platform with 24 Division I universities in 19 states designed to reach the farmer-owned cooperative's rural owners and customers. Read More
LegislationUSDA Implements Key Farm Bill Crop Insurance Provision
July 30, 2014
The new Supplemental Coverage Option, available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year, is designed to help protect producers from yield and market volatility. Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Forms New Organizational Structure For Its…
July 30, 2014
The new structure will provide more responsive internal support and will allow regional vice presidents and area managers to spend more time with customers, on talent development and on operational excellence across branches. Read More
Palmer pigweed in cotton
HerbicidesNew Training Modules On Herbicide Resistance Now Availa…
July 30, 2014
The Weed Science Society of America has announced the availability of three new education modules on herbicide resistance in weeds. Read More
HerbicidesWillowood To Market Glufosinate
July 28, 2014
Willowood USA recently announced that Federal EPA has approved its technical registration for glufosinate. Read More
InsecticidesHow To Scout For Corn Earworms In Corn
July 28, 2014
In her weekly report, University of Missouri Agronomy Specialist Jill Scheidt discusses what to look for when scouting for corn earworm. Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Pioneer, Weyerhaeuser Enter Technology License A…
July 28, 2014
The agreement brings together agricultural and forestry know-how to sustainably improve crop productivity for corn growers around the world. Read More
EquipmentAGCO Launches Global iPad App
July 28, 2014
The free AGCO Global iPad App can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes Store and features the full family of RoGator self-propelled sprayers and TerraGator high-floatation spreaders. Read More
Eric SfiligojYuma Centennial Ag Supply Earns 2014 National Environme…
July 28, 2014
Colorado-based ag retailer receives top trophy in 24th annual DuPont Crop Protection/CropLife ceremony. Read More
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