The Supply Side: Small compost supplier growing sales with Walmart

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,631 views 

Jennifer Cummins grew up on a dairy farm in Twin Falls, Idaho, and earned a law degree from the University of the Pacific in California. Her love for the farming lifestyle and desire to seek a sustainable manure management solution resulted in Cummins’ creation of Cowgirl Compost.

Cummins said that after her family’s dairy business moved to Buhl, Idaho, the family had to develop a sustainable solution to handle the manure they didn’t have room to spread. That’s when she began composting the manure from the dairy herd, and together with her husband Trent, the couple saw a business opportunity.

“Our dairy cows eat a very nutrient-rich diet, which enhances the quality of the compost. When I compared our compost to what I found on the market, I could see the difference and wondered if other consumers would also appreciate having a choice,” Cummins said.

Cummins founded Cowgirl Compost in 2013 and was using manure from her parents’ dairy. But good demand for the product meant she had to begin sourcing manure from other dairy farms in the region.

It takes about nine months for the manure to compost. The manure — sourced from family farms — is placed in open air rows. It is rotated regularly to allow oxygen to aid in the molecular breakdown of the manure. Cummins said all the weeds and pathogens bake out of the manure, leaving behind the pure forms of nutrients once eaten by the cows. When the composting process is complete, the product is moved to the company’s mixing center in Hammett, Idaho. She said the product is then packaged into 1-cubic-foot bags and placed on pallets for shipment.

Cummins said she stumbled across Walmart’s Open Call in early 2019 while researching online ways to get her product into retail.

“I took a chance and submitted our information,” she said. “I didn’t know if Walmart would be interested in our compost product, but I knew they had a large lawn and garden business. We already had the product into seven Lowe’s across the state of Idaho, but we were elated to get an appointment for Walmart at Open Call.”

The couple made the trip to Bentonville in June 2019 and met with a buyer. Cummins said the meeting went well, the product was received, and in April, Cowgirl Compost shipped its first products to Walmart.

She said the compost is sold in 69 Walmart stores on the West Coast. Cowgirl has two soil amendment items in Walmart, the Dairy Cow Compost and topsoil. Cummins said the product hit stores in time for spring planting, and with COVID-19 having more people at home, demand for the product has been strong.

Cummins said Walmart was incredibly easy to work with, and the buyer has been supportive through the company’s journey into stores. Compost and topsoil are typically seasonal products at Walmart, and Cummins said she could not be happier with how sales have gone thus far.

“They did not overwhelm our small business but allowed us to start small and grow over time. I love this opportunity to grow with Walmart,” she said. “It’s been an incredible ride for us, and we are just trying to catch our breath.”

Cowgirl Compost has scaled from three to eight employees in addition to Cummins and her husband. She said the couple has bootstrapped the startup but is working with a local bank to help fund incremental growth.

The company office is in Boise. Trent is an accountant in addition to helping run the growing business that Jennifer runs full time. Having grown up on farms, Cummins said the couple takes pride in knowing the manure used in their products comes from dairies where cows are treated right and fed well.

She is also proud to be a certified woman-owned business, which Walmart also acknowledges. Though college educated, Cummins and her husband attribute much of the company’s success to their ability to focus and the values they have from growing up in hardworking families.

“We love sustainably being part of agriculture,” Cummins said.

Cowgirl Compost was one of 500 suppliers in 2019 to pitch its U.S.-made products to Walmart at the retail giant’s sixth annual Open Call. The couple was one of about 100 to get a green light to move forward immediately.

Walmart said last year it was 94% of the way to reaching its goal of sourcing $250 billion of U.S. made products by 2023. Ahead of last year’s Open Call, the company reviewed 10,000 applications and held 700 meetings with more than 500 suppliers.

Walmart was unable to hold the Open Call in June and has yet to set a date for the event, given the COVID-19 pandemic. Scott McCall, the chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S., said this month the retailer remains committed to reaching its goal and helping to create jobs in the U.S.

“Additionally, we will continue looking for opportunities with minority-, woman- and veteran-owned companies, as we believe success within these core groups can help strengthen economies within the communities we serve,” he said.

Editor’s note: The Supply Side section of Talk Business & Politics focuses on the companies, organizations, issues and individuals engaged in providing products and services to retailers. The Supply Side is managed by Talk Business & Politics and sponsored by Propak Logistics.