Sorghum Sets Sights on Walmart

Nature's super grain at a super Walmart? The Sorghum Checkoff has its sights on a retail win presenting sorghum to this major U.S. grocer.

Sorghum Checkoff Market Development Director Doug Bice and Registered Dietitian and Culinary Consultant Abbie Gellman conducted a sorghum product demonstration at Walmart's Culinary Center in Betonville, Arkansas, on Nov. 8.

The demonstration was given to the dry goods sector of Walmart's respective procurement division, and nearly 20 sorghum product types, such as flour and flaked sorghum, were displayed and tasted. This meeting was an opportunity to discuss the possibility of sorghum use in Walmart's private label products known as Great Value™.

"There is over 400 million bushels of grain being used in the gluten-free, whole grain and ancient grain market, and sorghum only accounts for 3 percent of that," Bice said. "There is a lot of room for sorghum to grow in this market, and we need to seize this opportunity."

As the leading retailer in the U.S., Walmart's consumer reach is unmatched, and the Sorghum Checkoff jumped at the opportunity to meet with executives and discuss the multiple opportunities for sorghum within their stores. Depending on what specific product lines may be adopted by Walmart's procurement division, there is a possibility to dedicate millions of sorghum bushels to this effort.

Though there is promising opportunity for sorghum to expand onto retail shelves, it is an extensive process to physically get the grain in stores for sale. After the initial product demonstration, supplier information was submitted to Walmart for an internal review.

 The retailer is looking to launch a gluten-free healthy lifestyles product line in September 2018 and is evaluating sorghum suppliers to determine if they can meet their product launch requirements. Walmart will also consider factors such as taste, nutritional quality, shelf life and consumer awareness in addition to evaluating the supply chain.

The push to get sorghum on store shelves began several months back when a strategy was laid out to transition from a heavy focus on promoting sorghum to placing more emphasis on direct selling and putting the grain into consumers' hands. The Sorghum Checkoff utilizes food industry consultants to help secure meetings and opportunities that led to working with Walmart.

"Sorghum recently received a lot of positive press in the food industry when we were named as a 2017 trend and a grain to watch," Bice said. "With a growing consumer market and understanding of sorghum, we reached the point where we needed to shift our efforts more to selling sorghum and getting it on shelves and in carts, rather than solely focusing on awareness."

Next steps for the Sorghum Checkoff and Walmart include evaluating the submitted supplier information, determining which products fit the retailer's needs and continuing to provide nutritional, processing and production information. In addition to the Walmart dry goods sector, the Sorghum Checkoff provided samples to the procurement division for the freezer/refrigerated goods sector to promote sorghum use in frozen or refrigerated food products.

"Now we must continue to work with retailers and consultants to spread the benefits of sorghum, and that starts with our sorghum farmers," Bice said. "We want our producers to share their sorghum story, get involved and help us promote this grain and our industry. There is still a lot of work to be done if we want sorghum to make it big time and continue to grow this market."