Grocery Chains Create Celebri-tillers

Local farmers are getting star treatment by major food retailers these days, and we’re not just talking about those giant farmer photos at Whole Foods: Regional grocery chains and even Wal-Mart are jumping at the chance to court the growing buy-local movement. Kroger, Publix, and Food Lion stores now showcase produce from nearby farms, BusinessWeek reports, and in several states Wal-Mart is now running a Salute to America’s Farmers program (which involves giant signs pointing to locally grown fare, and sometimes in-store samples from the farmers themselves).

Why the sudden awareness of these formerly neglected farmers? In part, the article says, it’s due to the spotlight placed on local food economies by writer Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his subsequent public conversation with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey.

Still, the stores’ primary motivation is not ethical but (duh) financial:

Whole Foods, in the last few years, has been on a torrid growth streak by satisfying shoppers’ desire for locally grown, wholesome, and organic food, even at premium prices. But this year, revenue growth at Whole Foods slowed to single digits, just as Wal-Mart jumped aggressively into the fray, vowing to bring down the prices of organics and make them accessible to a mass audience…. The result is that both of those companies and plenty of others are trying to build their credibility by touting their ties to the local farming community.

Have you come across any local-food displays at your grocery store or (gasp!) the neighborhood Wal-Mart? (Would you even be caught dead in a Wal-Mart?) How’s the selection?

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