Organic Oats: Why Wal-Mart Is Getting Wild

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The world’s biggest retailer has a huge new goal: to become the world’s most accessible source of inexpensive organic foods.

The company indicated this month that it’s introducing a new line of organic foods to be sold at roughly 25 percent less than their organic competitors in an attempt to get rid of the price barrier that many shoppers suggest is their primary problem with organic foods.

The retailer is bringing back the Wild Oats brand name from a natural foods retailer started back in 1987 but obtained by competitor Whole Foods in 2007. Walmart plans to make organic food cheaper by selling Wild Oats organic products “without the price premium associated with such products,” writes a company blog post. Beginning this month, Wild Oats will offer 100 products, including organic broths, salsas, and canned beans, sold at approximately 30 to 40 percent less than organic competitors.

“This isn’t about telling our customers what to eat, nor is it an endorsement of certain foods. It’s about leveraging our scale to provide access to the choices that currently elude too many families in our country,” wrote Sinclair’s blog post. It also indicated that internal research finds that more than 90 percent of Walmart shoppers have interest in organic products– but many of them have continually stated that the prices are too high.

Because Walmart is pushing for organics while selling them cheaper than most people know about in other places, the organic movement appears to be making a powerful move in the right direction, Heather White, executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said via a statement. “While more Americans are seeking out organic food options in stores, most of our farmland is dedicated to conventional agriculture,” she said, adding that Walmart’s massive size will decrease the pesticides and genetically modified crops that wreck American agriculture.

“This decision by Walmart could be the biggest driver yet in realizing a future where organic food is not only less expensive, but more available,” she continues.

Like other stores that have brought in their own organic in-house brands, Walmart’s Wild Oats products won’t be full organic; some of them will be “Wild Oats Organic,” while others will be listed as “Wild Oats Originals,” with still more being branded “Wild Oats Marketplace.” But only the Wild Oats Organic products will be USDA-certified organic, and the other two categories are heading in the same direction as other monikered natural brands—beginning with the word “natural” on many products.

For example, Wild Oats eggs are not organic but carry the label “cage-free” and “produced without antibiotics” on their containers, both claims of relatively obscure credibility. Even though the move is a step in the right direction, the products could confuse well-meaning shoppers who don’t understand the difference between certified-organic and “natural” types of the products.

Regardless, the move towards organics isn’t a bad thing. Wild Oats products will begin showing up in stores soon, and a broader selection will be unveiled through summer 2014.

 

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