Walmart’s Tech Innovation Boosts Sustainable Local Farming

Cherry crops are part of Walmart's new tech trial
Walmart’s new green technology solution in partnership with Agritask supports seasonal crops growth to reduce supply chain emissions and food waste

Walmart serves 225 million customers each week and offers them a choice of 75 million products, each with its own environmental footprint. 

The United Nations reports that 13% of food produced is wasted between harvest and retail, and this accounts for 38% of total energy usage in the global food system. 

Walmart is taking steps to reduce this and improve their supply chain with new technology in a partnership with farming tech start-up Agritask.

Kathleen McLaughlin, Chief Sustainability Officer for Walmart (and top spot on our list of Top 100 Women in Sustainability 2024), is trying to improve things quickly.

Kathleen McLaughlin, CSO, Walmart

She says: “We must all take urgent, sustained action to reverse nature loss and emissions before we reach a tipping point from which we will not recover. 

“People have pushed past the earth's natural limits. Healthy societies, resilient economies and thriving businesses rely on nature.”

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Walmart is working towards net zero by 2040, and to avoid 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Walmart’s food waste plan

The company’s main plan to avoid food waste is increasing the sell-through of their food products.

Walmart’s steps to increasing sell-through:
  • Strengthening forecasting and ordering tools
  • Enhancing distribution centres
  • Adjusting store fixtures to increase turnover
  • Offering discounts on food close to its expiration date

When food does go unpurchased, Walmart donates items to food banks and other charities – in the financial year 2022, it donated over 310 thousand tonnes of food in the US. 

If unsold food is unsafe to eat, the company will convert it to animal feed, compost or energy. 

Sustainable transport and sourcing

Before reaching the supermarket shelves, food has to travel from the farm where it’s grown and sometimes further to be packaged.  

This travel, known as ‘food miles’, is one way to measure the environmental impact of the food you buy.

Of course, food miles aren’t the only environmental factor of selling produce, but when a company as large as Walmart sells so many items it adds up. 

Walmart lorry

Distance travelled is not the only environmental impact of produce - growing, harvesting, storing, and packaging all have a footprint too.

Food grown locally will have less ‘food miles’, making it generally a more sustainable choice. 

When fruit or vegetables are out of season, supermarkets source them from another country with a different climate. 

Walmart already sources produce locally where possible, but new technology from its collaboration program Sparkubate should increase supply and reliability. 

Crop supply intelligence

Walmart’s strategic partnership with Agritask will pilot a first-of-its-kind initiative to reduce food waste, secure surety of supply, and guarantee fresh produce for shoppers.

In this pilot remote sensing and data analytics tools are deployed in regions across the US and Mexico to provide real-time insights on seasonal blackberry and cherry crops from Walmart suppliers. 

Blackberries

Blackberries and cherries were selected for the pilot project due to their high sensitivity to temperature fluctuations and moisture levels which affects growth, quality, transport and shelf life. 

Kyle Carlyle, Vice President of Sourcing Innovation and Surety of Supply at Walmart, says: "Dealing with challenges in purchasing and planning accuracy in agriculture due to data discrepancies and environmental uncertainties can be tough.

“Agritask’s technology has the potential to fill vital information gaps that sourcing managers often face when predicting yield”.

Kyle Carlyle, Vice President of Sourcing Innovation and Surety of Supply at Walmart

With real-time monitoring, both farmers and Walmart can respond rapidly to adverse environmental conditions to better manage supply and enhance produce quality. 

Examples of insights from new technology:

  • Updated indications on meeting yield targets, allowing for optimisation of supply chain logistics.
  • Immediate alerts on risks and their potential impact on crops, such as an unexpected frost.
  • Real-time assessment of delays or advances in harvest timing allowing Walmart to manage inventory levels. 

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