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Walmart's U.S. manufacturing push benefits Baltimore-based olive oil company

Walmart plans to purchase $250 billion in U.S. made products by 2023 by working with companies such as Baltimore-based Pompeian Inc. (Baltimore Sun video)

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer but increasingly promotes itself as a seller of U.S.-made and locally sourced products.

Officials from the mass discounter visited Pompeian Inc.’s East Baltimore headquarters Wednesday to highlight its “America at Work” program and tour the olive oil company’s plant.

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For Walmart, it’s part of an ongoing effort to highlight U.S.-based suppliers that are investing in manufacturing and creating jobs, such as candy maker Mars Inc. in Topeka, Kan.; textile maker Springs Global in Bartlesville, Okla.; and American Plastic Toys in Olive Branch, Miss. Walmart said it plans to buy $250 billion worth of products that support American jobs by 2023.

That initiative has given a boost to Pompeian, a century-old Baltimore brand that blends and bottles olive oil, wine vinegar and cooking wines in a historic Highlandtown plant.

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Pompeian has been selling to Walmart for well over a decade but has increased sales to the retailer significantly since 2015, by more than 230 percent, and now ranks as the retailer’s fastest-growing olive oil brand, said Mouna Aissaoui, Pompeian’s chief operating officer. Pompeian has added 10 new products to Walmart’s shelves since 2015.

That relationship has helped the company invest in jobs and equipment, allowing it to add 30 workers — a second shift — in production and shipping since 2013. It now employs 105 people full time plus 10 to 15 seasonal workers, and plans to hire at least 10 more full-time employees next year.

“Pompeian is really committed to not only creating jobs but to creating good-paying jobs, jobs that actually offer good benefits,” Aissaoui said Wednesday during an event attended by Mayor Catherine Pugh and other city and state officials. “Walmart has been a great partner. … We believe in our mission, which is to provide high-quality products at the best value possible to every single consumer in the United States.”

The manufacturer also has poured $3 million to $5 million a year since 2013 into its Baltimore plant. Two months ago. it opened a quality control and research and development center, where imported oil is tested for purity and products are tested in environments replicating store shelves.

Walmart’s buy-American initiative aims to preserve and create jobs that contribute to the economic viability of cities such as Baltimore, said Joe Quinn, a senior director for Walmart.

Walmart said it spends $1.3 billion a year with 500 suppliers based in Maryland. The retailer’s buyers work with suppliers to spot trends and plan future product offerings, Quinn said.

“Innovation in our stores begins at the connection point between our buyers and companies like this,” said Quinn, adding that it can often take a year or two to bring new products to market. “The conversations between our buyers and companies like Pompeian are about what is the consumer going to want a year from now, or two years from now. … That’s a complex piece of business for both our company and suppliers like this to figure out where the marketplace is going.”

Pompeian said its Walmart partnership has helped it not only create jobs but boost wages. The average hourly entry-level rate jumped by nearly $5 to $14.06 per hour on average in the last few years, and the company has created new departments, including human resources, information teachnology and logistics.

As a manufacturer, Pugh said, Pompeian has been an economic generator, contributing to the growth of nearby local businesses.

“We’re excited to be part of this expansion [with Walmart] because we know that it makes a difference to all the individuals who work here,” the mayor said.

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