Organics: I Love…Walmart?!

Yogurt with granola and fresh blueberries, in glass bowl over ol

I find myself in an unexpected position here. As am American, I rarely considered Walmart a place to shop for general products, much less my groceries. I was fortunate to live in the natural paradise of Sonoma and San Francisco, and I had multiple produce stands along my commute to work everyday, with food straight off the farms attached to them (uh oh, nostalgia kicking in…must suppress…ok.).

But here I am, switching most of my organic shopping from Lohao City to the Walmart next to Wanda downtown. How did this happen? Well, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there’s a fundamental difference in presumptions here. Back in the states I rarely bought organic produce as it was too expensive, and in my neighborhood the majority of produce was of very high quality and safety. But here in China, there is indeed more uncertainty regarding food supply safety, and I was convinced that it was safer to go organic here as much for safety as for health. When I say organic I mean true organic as well as “green labeling” ( see my previous posts).

There are a few good places for good organic supply, and I usually went to Lohao due to convenience. Carrefour has a huge supply of organics, both produce as well as meats, but I hate how crowded it always is. Sooo…I discovered Walmart! Not only is it cleaner than Carrefour, but the crowds are less crazy. The overall shopping experience is more pleasant. And I admit I am very impressed at their organic selection, which includes dried products, produce, and an excellent collection of meats as well. The prices are very reasonable and not too much more than their non-organic partner. They even have a growing collection of “green label” snack foods! Plus, the underground parking and shopping cart ramps make access here really low-stress.

What About Their Reputation?

Yes, organics purists may get angry at such recommendations, as they comment back at home that Walmart, while pushing organics more, is squeezing their suppliers too hard and possibly destroying an overall purity of organics. I agree that if they’re shipping organics from China to the states, that certainly wouldn’t be desirable due to extra environmental costs. But let’s just step back from this hot-button issue and realize that the situation in China is different. Here’s a country rapidly changing in just 30 years, where food safety is a major issue that the government is aggressively working on, with the help of international agencies. But the average Beijinger has had very few options for stores that can offer more quality-controlled food at a price they can afford. So, a local Beijinger strolls into Walmart for the first time and is blown away — by how clean it is; by their huge selection not just of food but all products under one roof; and by the low prices. We expats may be blase or even contemptuous of Walmart, but for China such superstores are a massive upgrade.

And Walmart’s famous (infamous?) supply chain, while maybe squeezing out profits for American companies, at least here in China can offer a monitored supply and logistics chain that can guarantee food safety more than other supermarkets. Many people don’t realize that the cold supply chain in China is not fully developed; that means that many produce items that need to stay cold from farm to store are not shipped in cold trucks, and food may spoil along the way and bacteria may breed as well. Walmart, with their brutally efficient leverage among their suppliers, plus their huge stacks of cash, can monitor such basics much better than your local corner markets.

Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that I feel more comfortable buying food that has as much guarantee of quality as well as safety. For both, I would stick to larger markets, and I would always purchase organic or “green label” over non-labeled. And no matter where you shop, let’s all at least appreciate that the Chinese population deserves food quality and safety on a level as high as possible, and all steps in that direction are welcome.


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5 thoughts on “Organics: I Love…Walmart?!”

    1. Carrefour is also great! They were the first supermarket in China to start this idea of huge supply chains and working with limited vendors. They introduced many Beijingers and other Chinese to GreenFood and organics, and they also have their own line of organics.

  1. Anywhere else but PRC, Walmart would indeed be surprised I think, to find an MD singing their food quality praises, since they mainly strive to beat everyone on price, and thus need care more about cost of goods than their provenance. But as your very good analysis demonstrates, the situation here is different, and an efficient, professionally monitored supply-chain can eliminate alot of spoilage/bacteria!

  2. I like Carrefour for its selection and because its closer, but either Carrefour or Wal-Mart are far better options than the organics at Lohao, where quality and selection are both very iffy and price is outrageous. However, even with freshness and prices better at Carrefour/Wal-Mart, I still tend not to buy organic because of the sticker shock, in the US it usually costs me an extra $10 or so to buy organic, here its close to RMB80 or so, that extra $12 though goes a lot longer here than it would back in the US.

  3. Although Wal-mart carries organics I would caution anyone to think twice about shopping there as Wal-mart has a well documented history of abuse and injustice when it comes to its employees. It has been known to underpay its employees and to engage in discrimination, especially as far as sexism is concerned. Wal-mart is NOT concerned with Corporate Social Responsibility in the least!

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