The country’s largest retailer is expanding its commitment to sourcing products manufactured in the United States.
Under its U.S. manufacturing initiative, Walmart has pledged to buy an additional $250-billion in American-made goods from many companies around the country through the year 2023.
"With this, we’re in direct response to consumers," said Chris Buchanan of Walmart. "They have been asking us for more goods that are made in this country."
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Walmart has long been a lightning rod for criticism of potential negative impacts to small businesses, as proponents of downtowns have complained the large stores take revenue away from mom and pop shops.
Walmart has also historically been targeted for criticism of its pay practices for employees, who have gotten raises from the retailer in recent years.
However, Buchanan said such criticism doesn’t recognize the positive impacts Walmart makes on communities, including by fostering job growth through its commitment to buying U.S.-made products.
"Our company is definitely involved in so many initiatives that aren’t controversial, that aren’t lightning rods," Buchanan told necn. "Our veterans hiring program, the U.S. manufacturing initiative, obviously, our sustainability program. We’re doing the right thing, and we’re proud to do so."
Buchanan joined Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, in visiting the Wilder manufacturing center for King Arthur Flour, a famous baking supply and ingredients company where chocolate chip cookie mixes were on the production line Friday.
King Arthur is one of the many New England and U.S.-made brands Walmart carries in its retail stores both regionally and around the country.
Karen Colberg, the co-CEO of King Arthur Flour, an employee-owned company, said its sales at Walmart have increased 800 percent over the past decade, and that the retailer carries a range of products, including gluten-free baking mixes.
"While we have our own footprint and we have our e-commerce business, being partnered with Walmart enables us access to the geography they have, the footprint they have, and the 2,600 stores and all their customers," Colberg told necn. "We always want to see more people baking—to make baking even more enjoyable for more people."
Colberg, who said King Arthur Flour makes approximately 300 products, said the additional reach that has become possible through the national partnership with Walmart was a major component of helping grow jobs in Vermont.
Colberg added that other retail partners across the country, including grocery store chains, boutique kitchen retailers, and specialty food markets, have all been critical to the company’s success and future growth.
Gov. Scott donned a hairnet and white coat to tour the company that Colberg said employs roughly 400 people total, and is dedicated to excellence in food-safe production practices.
"People from across the world come to Vermont every year just to see your operation [at the King Arthur visitor’s center in Norwich],” Gov. Scott told some of King Arthur’s employees before his tour. “Which I think is pretty special, when you think about that."
Erin Sigrist of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association praised Walmart’s commitment to sourcing U.S.-made goods, and said it is nice to know that around the country, more consumers have an appreciation for products made in this country.
Sigrist noted that Vermont-made and New England-made products, in particular, are well-known for their quality and craftsmanship, and that small businesses are dedicated to making positive impacts on their states and communities, including by supporting local non-profits.
"It’s encouraging that a large corporation [like Walmart] is thinking about bringing some of those products from America onto their shelves instead of looking for the least expensive item," Sigrist said.
Sigrist said she hopes this holiday season, shoppers support small, independent businesses that make positive impacts on their communities, and when they’re in box stores, to seek out New England-made gifts, too.
One place to check out a wide selection of Vermont-made gifts is this weekend at the Sheraton Hotel & Conference Center in South Burlington, for the 65th annual Vermont Hand Crafters’ show, Craft Vermont.
The event runs through Sunday, Nov. 19 at the hotel, and features more than 160 artisans selling pottery, jewelry, glass, textiles, food products, home décor, and more.