Wal-Mart to buy more locally grown produce

“No other retailer has the ability to make more of a difference than Wal-Mart.”

That’s what Wal-Mart president and chief executive Michael T. Duke said at a meeting Thursday morning, according to prepared remarks, as he announced a program that would focus on sustainable agriculture among its food suppliers, as the retail giant tries to expand its efforts to improve environmental efficiency.

The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-sized farmers particularly in emerging markets and begin to measure the efficiently of large suppliers in growing and getting their produce to market.

The New York Times reports that given Wal-Mart is the world’s largest grocer, with one of the biggest food supply chains, any changes that it makes would have wide reaching implications. Wal-Mart’s decision five years ago to set sustainability goals that, among other things, increased its reliance on renewable energy and reduced packaging waste among its supplies, send broad ripples through product manufacturers. Large companies like Procter & Gamble redesigned packages that are now also carried by other retailers, while Wal-Mart’s measurements of environmental efficiency among its suppliers helped define how they needed to change.

I don’t know anything other than what I’ve read in the media, but it’s a fair guess that food safety culture Frank is going to have a lot to do with making sure any sustainability gains are coupled with enhanced food safety.

Michelle Mauthe Harvey, project manager for the corporate partnerships program at Environmental Defense Fund, said,

“This is huge. Once people are asked those questions, if they haven’t been measuring, they measure more.”

Go big or go home.