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Organic produce providers in Gainesville not worried about Wal-Mart campaign

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Posted: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 10:57 pm

Local organic grocers and farmers are generally unconcerned by Wal-Mart’s recent partnership with Wild Oats, an organic food brand that will bring cheaper products to its shelves.

Lisa McNett, general manager of the Citizens Co-op, said she doesn’t think the change will affect her grocery store’s sales because it doesn’t share a customer base with Wal-Mart.

“Our shoppers understand they are paying a little extra for a quality local product,” McNett said. “They are supporters of the local community and local farmers.”

On the other hand, Ward’s Supermarket natural foods manager Russ Welker said it may help the industry.

“Having more organic food items on the shelves is the best thing we can hope for,” Welker said. “The more good food available to the public, the better.”

He said there isn’t much room to cut prices without losing money because organic food sellers have to stay in the same price realm. But a superstore such as Wal-Mart, with a broader variety of items for sale than a small organic supermarket, has more leeway.

Marty Mesh, executive director of the Florida Organic Growers, said the effect that Wal-Mart’s price cuts will have is yet to be determined.

However, he said he hopes it will implement a strategy he calls “loss leaders.”

The strategy occurs when a store sells one product at a lower price to increase the amount of customers who come into the store. In Wal-Mart’s case, the lost income will be replenished when those who typically wouldn’t shop at the superstore purchase other items in addition to organic foods, Mesh said.

Wal-Mart is powerful enough to hurt the organic food industry and could drive down growers’ labor and production costs, he said.

“I hope it doesn’t change the nature of organic farming,” Mesh said.

But ultimately, Mesh said he doesn’t see it as a threat.

“We see it as an opportunity for organic food to become a large slice of the food pie for the betterment of both consumers and producers,” he said.

[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 4/16/2014 under the headline "Organic produce providers not worried about Wal-Mart campaign"]

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