Why Wal-Mart's Paying Close Attention to CSA-Style Delivery


It's not exactly rocket science, but community-supported agriculture (CSA)—a service that provides consumers with weekly boxes of produce from local farms—has gone a long way to giving the slow-food movement needed momentum. Small local farmers can count on a steady client base, and communities can trust their food is sourced nearby.

The idea is so simple and effective, it was hard to keep a secret. Now Wal-Mart, the antithesis of small and local commerce, is jumping aboard the CSA model, reports the Associated Press

This week, the corporation announced the launch of "Goodies," a service that exposes clients to new foods they can't get in brick-and-mortar Wal-Marts. If customers like what they receive in their monthly deliveries of trial-size items, they can opt to purchase products in regular sizes through the service website Goodies.co.

While it's a far cry from the fresh-from-the-farm boxes of produce popular in slow-food circles, the Goodies concept follows a similar pattern by building awareness and openness among consumers toward new foods. Get a delicata squash in a produce box from a CSA and you might find yourself trying a recipe you otherwise wouldn't; the same goes for a Wal-Mart Goodies box, which includes organic and ethnic foods that aren't as mainstream as the fare on Wal-Mart shelves.

November's offerings include items like dark-chocolate infused quinoa bars,  pumpkin spice tea, and spicy-sweet nuts. At a reasonable $7 a month (which Wal-Mart says is about half of what consumers would pay if they bought items individually), the service is also affordable to most American consumers. So does that make it a good thing?

The potential controversy around Wal-Mart's new development is reminiscent of the conversations surrounding the company's decision to offer more organic products, which was both lauded for making organic items available to the masses and criticized for creating another chance for local producers to get smushed by large-scale competition. The question stands:  Are developments that increase access to food and broaden awareness about options better for all of us, even if a major corportation stands to benefit—or are they inherently evil?

Ravi Raj, vice president at Wal-Mart's research division, told the AP that the decision to offer the service stands to benefit both Wal-Mart and consumers in a win-win way: "Wal-Mart is the largest grocer but there's room for us to innovate," he said, adding that building a successful business from the new idea would also be "super valuable" to Wal-Mart.

And the business model, which includes rewarding customers who log on to Goodies.co and review products they've tried, is clearly headed that direction. Wal-Mart not only collects $7, but also gains easy access to consumer preferences, which is a valuable asset for any company looking to expand its reach.

What do you think—do developments like these help or hurt the slow-food movement? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch. @babybokchoy | TakePart.com