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What are the economics of bringing organic food to the masses via Walmart, Costco?

A man shops at a Walmart store in San Jose, Calif., in September 2013.
A man shops at a Walmart store in San Jose, Calif., in September 2013.
Jeff Chiu/AP

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As organic products continue to grow in popularity an increasing number of retailers are looking to get in on the action. Walmart, the country’s largest retailer and grocer, announced this week that it will become the exclusive retailer of Wild Oats organic products, offering them at nearly 25 percent cheaper than other competitors. Wild Oats will supply Walmart with 100 pantry staples from olive oil to canned veggies. Approximately 90 percent of the products will be USDA-certified organic.

Stores such as Target and Costco are following Walmart’s organic lead. Target is in the process of expanding its inventory of “natural, organic, and sustainable” products. Target will introduce more than 120 new products over the next several months under a new category “Made to Matter - Handpicked by Target.” Costco is now carrying items such as organic beef and some vegetables in an attempt to draw in younger consumers.

How will Walmart’s decision to expand its organic selection affect other grocers? Will organic farmers be impacted by an increase in demand? How will the this impact agriculture in California?


Joe Dobrow, author of “Natural Prophets: From Health Foods to Whole Foods--How the Pioneers of the Industry Changed the Way We Eat and Reshaped American Business” (Rodale Books, 2014). He served as head of marketing for Fresh Fields, Whole Foods Market, Balducci’s and Sprouts Farmers Market.

Philip Howard, an associate professor who studies food systems at Michigan State University in East Lansing.