In a move that is sure to increase competition in the fresh food industry, Walmart announced a new program to boost sustainable agriculture. Specifically, the retail giant says it plans to help farmers expand their businesses. The company also hopes to reduce the environmental impact of farming and sell affordable fresh food to its shoppers.

This program will roll out over the next 4 years. During that time, the company has set specific targets for itself on a global  basis. These include:

  • Sell $1 billion of food obtained from small and medium farmers
  • Train 1 million farmers on improved sustainable farming practices
  • Increase small and medium farm income by 10-15%

In the U.S., WalMart plans to double the amount of local sourced products it currently sells. The company’s stores began selling locally-sourced products back in 2008. Currently, the company relies on its Heritage Agriculture program to provide residents of the East Coast, the Delta region of the South, and the Midwest with fresh fruits such as blueberries, peaches and tomatoes and vegetables ranging from broccoli to onions.

WalMart’s move comes at a time when major grocers like Safeway, Kroger and Supervalu are increasing their advertising budgets. So far, this year, large grocers have spent 19% more on advertising than they did in 2009. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Paul Ziobro notes that these marketers have to compete with new contenders like mass merchandisers and even drug stores. The mix of the new branding and promotional campaigns are all about driving sales and earning customer loyalty.

These are important goals in advance of WalMart’s latest move. If the retail giant succeeds in delivering quality, lower-cost, locally-sourced foods to consumers, the competition may go up another notch in the grocery industry.

[Sources: Walmart Unveils Glogal Sustainable Agriculture goals. Walmartstores.com. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2010; Ziobro, Paul. Grocery Chains Increase Ad Spending Amid Price war. Wall Street Journal. 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 26 Oct. 2010]