It's not easy to maneuver a battleship to hit a floating cork, but that appears to be what Wal-Mart is doing in the organic market. On that score, I just came across this Reuters interview with a Wal-Mart executive about its experience in the organic market. It was published on Friday. (See what happens when I miss one day of reading Ethicurean's news digest?). Here are some choice bits from a chat with Ron McCormick, Wal-Mart vice president of produce and floral. He's talking about problems with getting supply:
"The growers were straining to meet our volume, which I think also pushes you into an unenviable position in produce," he said.
"Whenever growers are straining to meet your volume it means they're forced almost into selling you something that would not be their best crop because they're desperate to get you something to meet your demand."
McCormick said Wal-Mart continues to fiddle with its organic strategy, trying to figure out the premium that its shoppers will pay for organic produce. It is also focused on developing a consistent supply of products.
"We're now trying to build a network of good suppliers that will be able to grow with us and be consistent. Our ideal supplier is one that has a passion for what they're doing and also has the ability to grow as we grow, so you don't have thousands and thousands of suppliers," he said.
I found that last point particularly interesting, since it underscores the point that Wal-Mart will source from larger growers rather than "thousands of suppliers." That's not necessarily bad, since it means other competing retailers can differentiate by sourcing from smaller, local growers in the market - and succeed.