The Tasters "Weren't Entirely Happy."


From a logical point of view, it's impossible to understand why food nerds have such a hard time believing that Wal-Mart could bring excellent food to the masses. The Wal-Mart model can and does work for a wide spectrum of goods. Organic mixed greens are not so very different from sweaters or shotguns or Popsicles or toilet paper as far as Wal-mart is concerned. But food scold Michael Pollan (among others) has so demonized the company that an article in The Atlantic noting that Wal-Mart sells rather nice veg reads like a revelation.

Here's the short version of The Atlantic's take on Wal-Mart's swank food offerings:

I'm convinced that if it wants to, a ruthlessly well-run mechanism can bring fruits and vegetables back to land where they once flourished, and deliver them to the people who need them most.

and this

The service people I could find (it wasn't hard) were unfailingly enthusiastic, though I did wonder whether they got let out at night.

Even in making the concession, author Corby Kummer can't quite resist the use of the word ruthless and the implication that Wal-Mart enslaves its staff.

On to the details: Kummer buys two batches of nearly identical groceries at Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. He has them prepared in a restaurant kitchen and invites taste testers to make a blind side-by-side comparison. The Whole Food grocery set cost $50 more, $20 of which is spent on top of the line chicken breasts (Wal-Mart didn't really offer equivalently high-end meat.)

The taste testers preferred the Wal-Mart veggies overwhelmingly, with complaints about the meat and dairy. "The tasters were surprised," he writes, "when the results were unblinded at the end of the meal and they learned that in a number of instances they had adamantly preferred Walmart produce. And they weren't entirely happy."

And the wrap up:

Michelle Harvey, who is in charge of working with Walmart on agriculture programs at the local Environmental Defense Fund office, summarized a long conversation with me on the sustainability efforts she thinks the company is serious about: "It's getting harder and harder to hate Walmart."

UPDATE: Elsewhere, Radley Balko asks "Does Wal-Mart Make You Skinny?"