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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Wal-Mart’s Good Fish Story

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 15, 2006

Looks like Wal-Mart’s green initiative spearheaded by CEO Lee Scott is really starting to influence the kind of press the company is receiving. Marc Gunther, a senior writer from Fortune magazine, spent a day on a fishing boat off Kodiak Island in Alaska:

They caught another 500 pounds of pink salmon, which sells for 35 cents a pound. That’s $1,050, before expenses, to be shared by the four of them — barely worth the effort.

Later in the season, they’ll do better, but the low wholesale price of salmon makes it hard to earn a living running a fishing boat off Kodiak. Many veterans have given up.

This is where Wal-Mart comes in. The giant retailer wants to support fishermen like Mitch, who play by the rules. And it wants to do so for an unsentimental business reason — Wal-Mart intends to grow and to sell fish for a long time, and it needs a reliable supply.

"Supply is already getting tighter," Peter Redmond, the company’s vice president for deli and seafood, told me. "We have a hard time now sourcing some fish, like whiting." Redmond has spent lots of time talking to suppliers and environmentalists about how Wal-Mart can help protect the future of ocean fish, and he has come up with a plan.

They may be the toughest bargainers on the planet for lawn mowers as far as I know, but when it comes to perishables I’ve always gotten the sense that executives at Wal-Mart are more worried about having adequate supplies than they are of getting things a nickel cheaper.

Smaller, slower growing retailers have the luxury of switching suppliers and cutting people out, but if you are talking fish, bananas or similar items, and you look at Wal-Mart’s projected growth, supplier development is a trait everyone better be pretty good at.

Of course, if they ever stop growing ….

Read the complete article here.

Also read the Fortune cover story about Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s CEO and his sustainability program.

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