Organic food can be expensive. But a new partnership between Walmart and Wild Oats, a pioneering company in the widespread manufacture and distribution of USDA-certified organic products, has the potential to be a game-changer because it will make many goods available at remarkably low prices. We know because we did our own reality check.

The new line, Wild Oats Marketplace, is trickling into Walmart’s 4,000 stores, and within a few months is expected to consist of around 100 packaged items, including salsa, pasta sauce, dried spices, olive oil and black beans (shown). The rollout should be complete in several months, according to Danit Marquardt, Walmart’s director of corporate communications. Walmart will also sell the goods online.

It’s not surprising that Walmart, like many merchants, is expanding its organic assortment. Organics are big business, and sales have soared to more than $31 billion a year. The real story is the remarkable price point of the products. Marquardt said that the Wild Oats items are at least 25 percent less expensive than other brands of similar organic goods currently sold at Walmart, based on an internal audit conducted by the chain. (Find out when it pays to buy organic food.)

How can Walmart sell these products so cheaply? As you might expect, it has a lot to do with the chain’s enormous buying clout. Walmart buys in huge volume and has made a long-term commitment to Wild Oats. Even so, Walmart has no intention of dropping its other organic brands, Marquardt said. The typical Walmart carries about 1,600 organic items.

Learn how to be a smarter supermarket shopper, and check our buying guide and Ratings for grocers nationwide

To gauge how Walmart’s prices compare to those of competitors, we conducted an anedoctal study at several large supermarkets (Stop & Shop, ShopRite) near Consumer Reports’ Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters. We compared prices on the Wild Oats products to other national brands—College Inn, Eden, Filippo Berio, Heinz, McCormick, Muir Glen, and others. In a few instances, we compared the Wild Oats price to a store-brand organic because no big-name brand was available. (Check out which store brands to savor.)

Store brands are typically more economical that national brands, but Walmart beat those, too. We sought the best possible deal at the local stores, choosing the most economical brand and package-size options. Then we calculated the unit price—the cost per quart or pound—for all the items. The accompanying chart tells the story. Walmart was cheaper in every example, and in two-thirds of the matchups, the differential exceeded 50 percent.

—Tod Marks

 Product

Walmart

 Local supermarkets

Walmart’s price advantage

Basil leaves

 $42.24*

$145.16

71% cheaper

Cayenne pepper

   17.19

    57.49

70

Ground cinnamon

   19.84

    63.89

69

Black beans

      .94

      2.79

66

Ketchup    

    1.19

      3.42

65

Tomato sauce     

      .94

      2.69

65

Garlic powder

   15.57

     42.60

63

Oregano

   63.36

   169.28

63

Cinnamon applesauce cups  

     1.32

      2.99

56

Creamy peanut butter    

     2.27

      4.99

55

Marinara sauce  

     2.41

      3.68

35

Tomato paste

     1.55

      2.13

27

Chicken broth

     1.98

      2.50

21

Extra-virgin olive oil

    12.39

    15.41

20

Kidney beans 

       .94

      1.02

  8

*All prices are per pound except for marinara sauce, chicken broth, and extra-virgin olive oil, which are per quart.


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