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Sustainability: Walmart and friends weigh in

A window on the language and its implications as farm animal welfare becomes a bigger force on the radar of the global food industry

Posted: May 8, 2014


Growing player in grocery business

Sustainability is arguably an overused word that means different things to different people. But one thing clear is that it represents a new mindset that is reshaping the perspective, and increasingly the direction, of the global food industry.

Environment remains by far the focal point issue. But a handful of additional 'social responsibility' components – including farm animal welfare – are increasingly part of the mix. The world's largest grocer – Walmart – recently held it's first-ever Sustainable Product Expo, which included a major speaker agenda and heralded new sustainability commitments signed by CEOs from more than a dozen global companies.

Insights from the top

The discussion and language used provides valuable insight on both the concept of sustainability and how it is driving change, with implications for the world of agriculture including livestock producers and their industries.

Here is a snapshot of one example, from a talk led by Jack Sinclair, Head of Grocery for Walmart U.S.

On the big-picture outlook. "As the world's largest grocer, Walmart is always looking for opportunities and to make food sustainable and affordable for all of our customers."

On supply chain teamwork. "The commitment that we have is to work collaboratively to try and improve the food supply chain, so we can make positive impacts on the world and on our customers. It's a commitment that is very, very real."


Jack Sinclair, Head of Grocery for Walmart U.S.

On growth and responsibility. "We have a fast growing food business at Walmart and we've got great ambition for it to continue to grow fast over the next few years. As we look at the challenges of that growth, we're very aware that the appetite we have to grow our business is going to require us to buy more and more of some of the world's key commodities. As we do that, we're very conscious of the impact this can have on the environment around us and other aspects of sustainability."

On balancing the ideal with the practical. "When we think of sustainability, we really do think about it in terms of the practical nature of what we need to source. The future of food is all about growth. The question is, how do we supply this growth to our customers in a sustainable way, to have the kind of future that we need to have? It's about solving the conundrum of producing more food with less resources. It takes innovation across the supply chain. It can only be done by working together."

On leadership. "At Walmart, we only buy and sell things. We are only part of the solution. But what we can do is convene people to discuss these issues. We can be a leader with our partners in exploring how we can work along our supply chain to improve sustainability and improve food production across the world. We're all in this together. The challenges Walmart faces are exactly the same as the challenges the world faces on a larger scale."

Learn more here about the supplier commitments made at the Sustainable Product Expo, including agriculture-related pledges from Campbell Soup Company, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, General Mills, Monsanto, Kellogg Company, and PepsiCo.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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