Natural Foods Merchandiser

Natural Products Industry Buzz

Go green, go … Wal-Mart? Can the world's largest retailer remake itself as the greenest? Wal-Mart chief executive officer H. Lee Scott Jr. believes it's possible. Following its push for more organic foods, Wal-Mart says it will invest $500 million in sustainability projects, including purchasing wild-caught salmon direct from fishermen, increasing fleet fuel efficiency and recycling packing in-house. And by the end of this year, Wal-Mart plans to become the world's largest purchaser of organic cotton.

Last year, Wal-Mart ranked fifth on the list, with Nike at the top. This year, the company plans to purchase 6,800 metric tons of organic cotton—more than the entire global production just five years ago. In 2005, the world retail total for organic cotton was just over 9,000 metric tons, according to Organic Exchange.

Considering that U.S. cotton farmers alone use more than 50 million pounds of pesticides annually, the switch to organic makes environmental sense. "Wal-Mart will be able to reach out to consumers who wouldn't otherwise know about organic fiber and wouldn't be able to afford it in more boutique settings," says organic cotton consultant Sandra Marquardt.

In the past, supply of organic cotton has sometimes exceeded demand, forcing farmers to dump their organic materials at conventional prices, so Wal-Mart's move toward organic could be a blessing for farmers as well. "If there are forward contracts in place," says Marquardt, "then most farmers would be very happy to have the security of a guaranteed buyer."

Naturally Boulder day returns
The second annual Naturally Boulder conference in Boulder, Colo., slated for Oct. 20, will feature a full day of seminars and events designed to attract new companies to the area and grow existing businesses. The conference will give young entrepreneurs the opportunity to be mentored by successful naturals pioneers, including Mo Siegel, founder of Celestial Seasonings, and Steve Demos, founder of WhiteWave.

The economic development initiative, a partnership between private companies and local businesses, is designed to draw attention to the Boulder area, which conference director Steve Hoffman calls "the Silicon Valley of the natural products industry."

The conference will feature seminars on ethical leadership, cause-related marketing and sustainable manufacturing, and offers a special discount for starving entrepreneurs. "We want to make it very practical for people to walk the talk and become successful, natural, green entrepreneurs," Hoffman says. More information on the conference can be found at

The self-checkout systems found in increasing numbers of grocery stores can reduce check-out time for harried shoppers. Their use increased 35 percent in 2005, to more than $110 billion in total transactions, and now almost one-fifth of consumers use self-checkout exclusively, while another 29 percent use it if there is a line at manned stations.

However, a new study conducted by IHL Consulting Group shows an unintended consequence—shoppers who use self-checkout systems make 45 percent fewer front-end impulse purchases than customers using traditional, manned checkouts. The study suggests the impact is greater for female shoppers (50 percent fewer impulse purchases) than for male shoppers (27.9 percent fewer).

"Retailers are being forced to rethink their merchandising at the front end as they deploy self-checkout systems," says Greg Buzek, president of IHL. Some retailers have begun offering prepared foods, such as rotisserie chickens and fresh-baked bread, to engage the senses and steer customers toward purchases they wouldn't otherwise have made.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 9/p. 22, 27

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