Wal-Mart Schmal Mart

Nearly a year ago, America’s largest retailer made an announcement. Coinciding with the opening day of Natural Products Expo West, Wal-Mart declared its intention to add thousands of natural and organic SKUs to it shelves. Today that promise seems a lot like NBN’s vow to get to the gym.  It just hasn’t happened and we aren’t sure if it ever will.

Organic items are few, dominated by mainstream manufacturer’s organic offspring.  Smucker’s peanut butter, Breyer’s ice cream, Ragu pasta sauce are the norm and with the exception of Bob’s Red Mill and some Van’s frozen waffles, the shelves don’t look all that different.

Last year at Expo West 2006 lots of people were, and still are salivating at the prospect of doing business with Wal-Mart.  Yet while some might do well in Wal-Mart, NBN doubts the opportunity is ripe except for corporate organic big shots and a few others.

Meanwhile the issue of rock bottom prices illustrates the debate over organic dairy and claims that Horizon and Aurora dairies both use methods in violation of the USDA Organic rules.

Wal-Mart’s demand for large wholesale price cuts led Organic Valley to decide doing business with Wal-Mart didn’t make sense. Organic Valley, a farmer’s cooperative, determined they couldn’t make a profit if they cut prices as demanded.

After Organic Valley told Wal-Mart “Hasta la vista baby!” private label supplier Aurora Dairy stepped into the void.  Aurora, a company scrutinized by critics for herd confinement practices they claim are in violation of the USDA organic rules met the price without concerns.

In the meantime Wal-Mart still promises to go green, creating new stores that use little energy and rely on sustainable construction practices. Should they actually follow through with the plan the company will revolutionize green building.

This is a plan that has NBN rooting for the giant, even while we doubt their sincerity and even worse, grimace over the company’s dismal treatment of employees.

But hey let’s see. If Wal-Mart starts caring about the environment, maybe the HR Department will follow the example and treat employees better, too.

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