Whole Foods Market and Walmart: The Sustainability Movement

At one point in time, Whole Foods Market and Walmart seemed entirely different enterprises, a natural food industry versus the largest retailer of common goods in the world. Whole Foods Market got its start in 1980 in Austin, Texas, when four people looking to change the natural food industry introduced a storefront offering quality standards, food safety, and organically grown products. Their motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, [and] Whole Planet” aims to “sell the highest quality natural and organic products available.” On the other hand, the first Walmart opened in 1962 by the Walton family with the “decision to achieve higher sales volume by keeping sales prices lower than competitors.” Walmart’s mission is to “give more people access to a better life, one individual, family, and community at a time.” Recently, Walmart announced their plan to offer consumers a wide selection of organic foods, while still keeping to their “Everyday Low Prices” motto.

Although there is no set definition of sustainability, and many organizations have their own metrics, it is a guiding interest of both Whole Foods Market and Walmart. According to the United States EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), sustainability is “based on the simple principle” of “creating and maintaining conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.” A comparison of the different measures of each company allows for a deeper understanding of each company’s sustainability success, within the three pillars (environmental, social, and economic) of sustainability. In order to form a quick conception of each company’s practices, I focused on the supply chain, employee development, and overall profitability.

The Supply Chain (Planet)

According to the EPA’s Top 30 Retail Partner List, which represents the largest green power users among retail partners within the Green Power Partnership, Walmart ranks at #3. Also, on Walmart’s corporate site the company clearly details a few initiatives and commitments to preserving natural resources such as getting to net zero deforestation, promoting a quality water supply, and conserving land. First, Walmart has committed to selling only sustainably sourced palm oil products in private brands by December 31, 2015 and only beef that is free of Amazon deforestation (both are 100% accomplished). Second,  Walmart intends to “gain increased visibility over the next 10 years into key metrics regarding yields, water usage and greenhouse gases in the food supply chain.” Progress is tracked by receiving “supplier Sustainability index responses covering 77% of Walmart food business.” Last, Walmart has committed to conserving one acre of wilderness for every acre of Walmart-occupied land in the U.S through 2015.

In April 2014, the EPA recognized Whole Foods Market in Marietta, GA for reducing food waste. In addition to this achievement, Whole Foods Market upholds quality standards for fresh produce and flowers, animal welfare and meat quality, sustainable seafood, and cleaner cleaning products for the home. Whole Foods Market’s own Responsibly Grown rating system, standards in the meat department, sustainable seafood guide, and a direct way to check levels of their Eco-Scale rating system for cleaning products helps customers to easily navigate and find sustainable products.

Employee Development (People)

Walmart offers competitive pay, health care plans, educational assistance, and retirement plans to all of their employees. They offer every employee a Walmart Discount Card for a 10% discount on fresh fruit, vegetables, and regular priced merchandise within the store. Also, Walmart rewards employees with comprehensive health insurance plans that include dental, vision, and counseling. Last year alone (2016), Walmart promoted 200,000 employees and now 300,000 associates wear a 10+ year badge. On top of these benefits, Walmart also offers scholarships to their associates and their dependents looking to further their education. Remarkably, Walmart helped serve 10,000 communities in natural disaster ridden areas last year (2016) and dispensed $46,000 in grants for communities in need.

Similarly, all team members of Whole Foods Market receive a 20% discount card on  products store wide.  In addition, after 800 hours of service they offer employees low individual insurance premiums starting at $20 per paycheck.  After 6,000 hours of service (approximately 3 years of service) employees are eligible for service-hour grants to put towards their education. However, all of these benefits are available only to employees who work 20+ hours a week and have successfully completed a probationary period of employment. Additionally, Whole Foods Market cares for surrounding communities through community giving days,  in which “five percent of that day’s net sales are donated to a local nonprofit or educational organization.” Also, Whole Foods Market serves the global community by micro lending to rural communities around the world to aid in alleviating global poverty.

Profitability (Profit)

Back in 2005, when Walmart first reported they were “going organic” net sales finished at $285.2 billion. So, has Walmart increased sales since implementing their organic movement? The corporation does not divulge how much revenue comes from organic products alone, making it hard to compare fiscal years. However, Walmart generated $482.1 billion in net sales in 2016. Overall it seems the $196.9 billion increase in revenue over the 10 years alludes to Walmart’s success.

In comparison, Whole Foods Market reports for fiscal year 2016 record sales at $15.7 billion. According to the press release details, comparable store sales decreased by 2.6% (whether or not Walmart was included in this calculation is unknown). In 2005, Whole Foods Market reported $4.7 billion in net sales, an 234% increase since 2016.

Although it is hard to say which company will be in the forerunner in organic food products in the future, Walmart has definitely made an impression in the sustainable grocery movement. Perhaps, more grocery stores will follow suit and supply organic and sustainable foods for the public.

-Posted by Shannon

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