Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores said Monday (June 12) it has teamed up with the Arkansas Agriculture Department to support the agency’s “Arkansas Grown” program that kicked off in Little Rock at Wal-Mart’s store on Baseline Road.
Arkansas Grown is program that brands locally grown and made products sold in Wal-Mart’s stores across the state. The program is aimed at increasing local produce sales and supporting local farm jobs and operations.
“Growing up on a farm in Northwest Arkansas gave me a deep understanding and appreciation for agriculture,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “The partnership between our state’s largest company, Wal-Mart, and our Arkansas Agriculture Department’s Arkansas Grown Program represents our state’s continued commitment to the success of our state’s largest industry and our many hardworking farmers and ranchers.”
Wal-Mart said consumers will begin seeing Arkansas Grown signage in its stores in to easily identify locally grown produce and other products offered. During Monday’s announcement Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward recognized Wal-Mart’s work in these efforts along with two local farmers who supply many stores across the country with their locally grown produce.
“When consumers buy products featuring the Arkansas Grown logo they know that they are supporting farmers and ranchers from right here in Arkansas,” Ward said. “The Arkansas Agriculture Department is proud of our Arkansas Grown and Arkansas Made programs, and we are proud to partner with Wal-Mart stores located in Arkansas to help promote local foods and jobs.”
Arkansas consistently ranks in the top 25 states in the production of 21 agricultural commodities including sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Agriculture means jobs and more and more, the “local food” movement means more jobs for Arkansas, officials said.
“Our customers have told us that second to price, where products are made influences their purchase decisions,” said Cindi Marsiglio, vice president, U.S. manufacturing at Wal-Mart. “We are focused on buying great quality products that create jobs in communities across the U.S. It makes sense for our customers, our communities and our company.”
According to a 2015 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends Survey, more than 80% of surveyed grocery store shoppers reported purchasing local foods occasionally, while 9% reported purchasing local foods whenever possible.
This is the not the first time Wal-Mart has made an effort to showcase products made in Arkansas. In June 2014, the retail giant told the media it was highlighting “Arkansas Made” products in its stores. That included everything from corn bought from farmers in Pea Ridge to salsa made and co-packed in Rogers from My Brother’s Salsa brand. In 2014 that program was left up to store operators to feature the “Arkansas Made” items with signage.
In November Wal-Mart announced plans to double its locally grown produce sales in the United States by 2025. Wal-Mart said it more than doubled its locally grown produce sales between 2009 and 2015, from $404 million to $825 million, according to Ragan Dickens, director of sustainability communications for the company. Based on the 2015 number, Wal-Mart’s goal is to have local produce sales of at least $1.65 billion in 2025.
At Monday’s event Wal-Mart officials introduced Matthews Ridgeview Farms, a commercial sweet potato farm operation in Wynne.
“Matthews Ridgeview Farms is a growing, sustainable company with an exciting future,” said Autumn Campbell, sales manager at Matthews Ridgeview Farms. “The produce industry is ever changing and the sweet potato market is growing every year. We are excited that our healthy product can be purchased by our friends and neighbors in their neighborhood store.”
Based on data from the Farm to School research study, Arkansas consumers spend $7 billion annually on food, and $6.3 billion of that amount is spent purchasing food from other states. State officials said it’s their hope Arkansas Grown will help keep more of the $7 billion within the state.
Other grocers such as Springdale-based Harps Foods and Allen’s Food Store in Bella Vista routinely feature produce purchased from local farmers such as Vanzant farms in Lowell or McGarrah Farms of Springdale.