Opinion: Walmart Goes Local, So They Say

Opinion: Walmart Goes Local, So They Say

Frank Giles

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By now, you have probably seen the TV ads featuring Walmart’s “fresh over” of a local farmers’ market. Unsuspecting customers come to the local market to buy produce that has secretly been stocked from Walmart’s own produce suppliers.

When the market customers are told the amazingly good fruits and vegetables they’ve just sampled in the farmers’ market are from Walmart, they go into infomercial-style hysterics of amazement. It marks a new promotion from the retail giant to promote their commitment to buy local to ensure the freshest quality and best tasting produce for Walmart customers.

A couple of thoughts here: I am sure this ad from Walmart has not won over any hearts of the real farmers’ market growers out there or other smaller growers who can’t play with the requirements and scale of the big box icon. And, how hard can it be to buy local when you have thousands of stores nationwide?

What Walmart is doing makes one realize the consumer trend of “buy local,” or I think better stated, “buy fresh and tastier” is truly ingrained into the consumer psyche. Yes, it is a marketing ploy from Walmart. But, when a store that has built its identity on discounts and low prices makes this kind of move, it is worth noting. Even consumers who might be shopping there on limited incomes are demanding better quality, local produce.

The retailer would not be creating this campaign in a vacuum. I am sure they have consumer research of all income strata to back up that this is was a worthwhile effort. And, having shopped their produce aisles, there was plenty of room for improvement. It is all about fresh quality and better tasting produce in this image makeover.
You might roll your eyes a bit at this latest campaign from Walmart. I admit I do to some degree. Think of it this way from a U.S. grower perspective. Walmart is spending a massive amount of money to educate American consumers about the importance of buying here at home. They have far more resources to expend on public education than any of our agricultural groups and associations.

All of this attention on buy local might get the masses to consider that a blueberry grown in Florida is indeed far more fresh and tasty than one grown in Chile. Up and down the produce aisles of Walmarts across this nation, that subtle education could be taking place. While those of you who grow for Walmart probably won’t see an extra dime for your product, that education process is worth something in promoting American-grown produce.

The notion of buy local was once a boutique idea that really played best to higher income folks. Walmart’s campaign is bringing it to a larger audience. It illustrates that taste knows no boundaries — all consumers want fresh and flavorful fruits and vegetables.

It seems obvious, but in the past, there has been a major focus on yields and disease packages. That will always be the case, but we now see more emphasis on how produce holds up and tastes once it leaves the fields. Seed companies are breeding for postharvest qualities more and more. At a field day this summer, I saw a watermelon that’s main purpose will be to have longer shelflife in fresh-cut clamshells, which you guessed it, consumers like and are demanding more of.

You know what they say: The consumer is always right. That will hold true no matter what Walmart does with its ads, PR, and promotion.