Wal-Mart to push organic food into mainstream - chicagotribune.com

Wal-Mart aims to push organic foods into mainstream

Walmart announced the addition of Wild Oats brand organic food to be sold at the same price as it's conventional counterparts.

By Jessica Wohl, Tribune reporter

Wal-Mart is trying to make organic food more accessible to its budget-conscious shoppers.

The nation's largest retailer is making a bigger bet on the fast-growing category, teaming with Wild Oats to sell organic packaged food priced in line with conventional foods and at least 25 percent less than other organic brands it carries.

The effort by Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the largest seller of food in the United States, could have a ripple effect in the grocery industry. Cost has been one obstacle for many shoppers who say they would like to buy organic food but hold off because of typically higher prices.

Wal-Mart's research showed that 91 percent of its shoppers would consider buying products from an affordable organic brand.

"We're removing the premium associated with organic groceries," said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of the grocery division at Wal-Mart U.S.

The Wild Oats brand is probably familiar to many consumers who buy organic. It is the same brand as the chain of stores that Whole Foods acquired in 2007. Now, Wild Oats is relaunching as a line of foods focused on organic items such as tomato sauce, chicken broth and spices, with Wal-Mart as its only national retailer.

Sales of organic foods have soared in recent years, as more consumers pay attention to where their food comes from and try to eliminate exposure to chemicals and toxins. U.S. consumer sales of organic food products rose 10.8 percent, to $26.3 billion, in 2012, according to New Hope Natural Media's Nutrition Business Journal.

Initial estimates suggest that sales grew about 11 percent in 2013. It forecasts that the organic food market will surpass $60 billion by 2020, with average annual growth of 10 to 12 percent from now through 2020, far outstripping that of conventional food.

The Wild Oats debut at Wal-Mart comes as mass-market retailers, including discount chains, groceries, convenience stores and warehouse clubs, accounted for 46 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2012, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Natural and specialty retailers followed with 44 percent of sales.

The Wild Oats items will start out, as early as this month, in about 2,000 Wal-Mart stores, including some in the Chicago area, and should ultimately be in the more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores across the country that sell groceries. They will also be sold on Wal-Mart's website this summer.

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