Stores aim to stock locally-grown produce

Kevin Wilson

Stores are going local, and searching for those who are growing local.

Wal-Mart recently announced plans to double its sales of fresh produce from local farms in U.S. stores over the next five years, bringing the total to 9 percent by 2015.

The amount is higher than some area merchants, but still trails others

Tiffany Moffatt, a regional corporate affairs director for Wal-Mart, said the chain will consider in-state farmers to be “locally-grown produce” for Clovis and Portales locations.

“Specifically for New Mexico this month,” Moffatt said, “we’re sourcing pumpkins, iceberg lettuce, green cabbage and red chili peppers.”

Wal-Mart typically does not share its sales figures, Moffatt said.

Randy Stansell, owner and operator of Stansell’s Thriftway, said he didn’t have a percentage of how much of his store’s produce was grown locally, but it wasn’t much. Most of it comes through their warehouse’s produce department.

“I know (they buy) all they can as close to home as they can get it, but there’s not that big of a supply around anymore. There aren’t a lot of commercial packers around the area.”

Tim Russell, manager of Russell’s Super Save in Portales, estimated his store has about 15 percent locally-grown produce.

“You’ve got quite a few people that grow local produce,” Russell said. “One of the disadvantages is they usually don’t grow enough to stock a supermarket. Buying bits and pieces from different vendors is tough.”

One of Wal-Mart’s motivations for buying locally is to cut on the costs of transporting merchandise, and Russell said smaller farmers aren’t much more expensive than giant warehouses.

“They’re pretty competitive. Our office won’t let us buy produce that is higher from a vendor than it may from a warehouse.”

If local produce costs around 5 percent more, Russell said, there isn’t too much difficulty justifying the purchase. But the parent offices usually won’t consider increases of 20-30 percent or more.

Stansell and Russell both said they stock local squash in season, and Russell said other popular locally-grown foods include watermelon, cantaloupe and jalapenos.