Working With Walmart

In late April, Wal­mart brought together a number of its key supplier partners to participate in its first-ever Sustainable Product Expo. The assembled partners represented more than $100 billion in sales to Walmart, and not surprisingly, a number of these participants came from the ranks of food production. Among them were Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cargill, General Mills and Monsanto.

From discussions at the Expo, these companies made pledges to help Walmart deliver on its sustainability goals related to reducing use of resources, improving efficiency and creating transparency in the food production channel. “Sustainability for all” is Walmart’s battle cry.

Manuel Gomez, vice president of sustainability for Walmart, asserted that “no one should have to choose between products that are sustainable and products they can afford. We want to make sustainability easy by taking the guesswork out of values-based shopping. Accessibility and transparency really put the customer in the driver’s seat.”

Certainly, this is a long-term, slow-burn process for Walmart — but it is a process that is well underway, and leading agriculture companies are fully engaged. And, Walmart has shown a willingness to learn as much as possible and be consultative with the market as the process moves forward.

I did not attend the Expo, but in reviewing post-event materials I had not seen references to The Fertilizer Institute (TFI). I knew that they had been actively engaged in the past with Walmart on the topic of fertilizer use in ag, so I asked Kathy Mathers, vice president of public affairs at TFI, if they had a seat at the table.

Sure enough, TFI was engaged behind the scenes at the Expo. “We had a staff member, as well as several TFI member company representatives and a representative of the International Plant Nutrition Institute, in attendance,” Mathers explained. TFI reps have been communicating with Walmart’s sustainability team over the past nine months, she added.

“While there is still a lot of work left to do on this front, the Expo provided for open dialogue and in some cases, the opportunity to meet with Walmart, its supply chain partners and the environmental non-governmental organizations who are playing a role in this effort.”

Mathers continued: “By their own admission, members of Walmart’s sustainability team are not ag experts and at this juncture, so we are happy to be in the background and work to further educate them about fertilizer and its science-based, site-specific use through the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship. This work won’t happen overnight, but it is necessary that it continue.”

Through education and collaboration, the hope is that, in time, Walmart will fully understand that agriculture is working hard to optimize fertilizer efficiency, and that simply demanding a blanket rate reduction is not a sustainable approach to crop production.

Walmart is challenging its partners — and essentially, the entire food production channel — to engage in continuous improvement that leads to greater sustainability. We applaud the efforts that companies and organizations in ag are making to ensure Walmart makes sustainability decisions that make sense while also making a difference.

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