Sustainability is core to Organic Valley. It’s right there in our mission goals. It’s been inherent in our very existence from the beginning, one of those intangible, squishy things that one struggles to define. And since our humble beginnings, we’ve held a leadership position on sustainability that set us apart from the rest of the industry. But that’s all changing. Everyone else is trying to get in on the action too. There is a gold rush on “owning” sustainability. Producers, manufacturers, retailers and certifiers are all trying to stake their claim as leaders, and the most prominent provocateur is Walmart.
Walmart is the largest retailer in the world and currently represents over 25% of grocery sales domestically with the goal to significantly grow their market share in the coming years. Where will all those new customers come from? Walmart is banking on sustainability to attract new customers. The strategy appears to be sound as 83% of shoppers say it’s important to buy sustainable products, according to a Ryan Partnership survey.
Walmart has been focusing on sustainability since 2005, with efforts ranging from renewable energy production to waste reduction. But their most influential foray into the space is with The Sustainability Consortium. The Consortium has developed a survey called The Sustainability Index which Walmart requests that suppliers respond to each year to identify improvement opportunities. Walmart has recently announced plans to take The Sustainability Index results to consumers via an online sustainability store. The shopping website, expected to launch by the end of 2014, will allow consumers to easily identify the most sustainable product within a category. As the number 1 scoring dairy supplier on the Index, the Organic Valley brand should be well represented in the store.
Being the number 1 scoring dairy supplier to the largest retailer in the world feels pretty good, but we plan to continue moving forward, improving and demonstrating what we have known all along, that the practices of Organic Valley farmers are industry-leading. Competitors are going to challenge us, conventional and organic alike. A few years ago, it would have been difficult to envision such competitive pressure on the issue of sustainability, but we’re now in the midst of surprising times.