Walmart vs. Whole Foods: The Great Grocery Smackdown Ends in a Draw
Steven HorwitzIn the March issue of The Atlantic, there is a fascinating article by Corby Kummer that explores Walmart's foray into organic and locally-grown foods. Kummer is no fan of Wally World and in several aside reveals some real economic ignorance (no, the world would not be a better place if we grew our own food or bought it directly from those who did), but she also comes at the issue with an open enough mind to see the good things that Walmart has done in helping revive local agriculture in some areas.The most interesting part, however, is the taste test. Kummer bought the same set of ingredients from Walmart and Whole Foods and had an Austin, TX chef prepare the identical meals with each set. She then had a group of 16 foodies compare the dishes. The results? Basically a draw. She also notes, but doesn't make much of it, that the ingredients at Walmart cost $126.02 but $175.04 at Whole Foods. If there was no major difference, in the aggregate, in the quality and flavor, why pay $50 more? This is yet another example of Walmart extending the consumption possibilities of the rich to the poor, as has been the ongoing trend since the Industrial Revolution.It is Walmart's very size, so hated by so many progressives and conservatives, that has enabled it to be such a powerful player in the local/slow/organic food markets. Yes, it's after the bottom line, but the unintended consequence of their search for new markets and profits is that they have brought higher-quality food to the masses and at 25% or more less than places like Whole Foods. With Walmart offering a healthy array of fruits and vegetables, the claims that cheaper food makes us fatter, already cast into doubt by Charles Courtemanche and Art Carden, becomes weaker yet.Will a piece like this reduce the whining and griping about the Evil Walmart Empire? Doubtful. But it should be required reading for those who blame Walmart for every American problem and who contrast it with Whole Foods.