Walmart recognizes Arizona food and garden suppliers

Walmart hosted a celebratory event last week to honor local businesses, in keeping with the company’s ongoing effort to support American jobs and business owners, called the Investing in American Jobs initiative. Arizona-based Fiesta Canning, Gro-Well Brands and Ahssa Foods were among the vendors in attendance.

“This is our way of celebrating local businesses that make fantastic products we sell in our stores,” said Walmart Market Manager Peter Abbott. “Supporting American businesses supports quality jobs across the country, and it gives our customers more of what they’ve told us they want.”

The event, held at the Walmart Supercenter at Metrocenter Mall in west Phoenix, put local vendors’ goods on display and invited customers to sample locally-produced foods.

“Walmart has made a pledge of $250 billion by the year 2023 in U.S. jobs and U.S. businesses, and right here in Arizona alone we’ve invested $1.5 billion, which has created over 29,000 jobs,” said Duane Morrison, store manager for the Walmart Supercenter at Metrocenter Mall. “We’re really, really proud of that, and we just want to say ‘thank you’ to our vendors; and to our customers, we appreciate your business here. Thank you for making this a success.”

Mesa-based Ahssa Foods is the latest addition to Walmart’s local vendor family. Owner and founder Kay Weldon pitched her brand alongside 450 other small businesses at the annual retailer’s Open Call in June 2018.

“‘Ahssa’ is Korean slang for ‘awesome,’ so I have awesome sauces,” Weldon said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to offer my products, my creation, to a larger company.”

Weldon formed her company in May 2016 after encouragement from friends and family to market her homemade chicken wing sauce.

“The original sauce is sweet and tangy, inspired by Korean cuisine,” Weldon said. “Since then, I’ve developed several more flavors.”

Ahssa sauces are very versatile and can be used with beef, chicken, pork, seafood, vegetables, rice and tofu, Weldon said.

“I look forward to a long and successful relationship with Walmart,” Weldon said. “I want to sweeten and spice up your life with my Ahssa sauce!”

Fiesta Canning Co., an affiliate of Phoenix-based Macayo’s Mexican Restaurants, has been around for 38 years. The company has a large manufacturing plant in McNeal, a small unincorporated community in the southeast corner of Arizona. The company packages foods and sauces for retail sale as well as industrial uses, such as in other brands’ packaged or frozen foods.

“We pack anywhere from a little four-ounce can to a big 440-pound drum,” said Joe Herrera, national sales manager at Fiesta Canning. “If there’s any Mexican (food) company that’s selling burritos, tacos, things like that in stores, we’re probably selling them ingredients — chilis, sauces, purées.”

Herrera said he thought it was wonderful that Walmart took the initiative to recognize local companies and the impact Walmart has on businesses like Fiesta Canning.

“We’re a small manufacturer by most standards, but we estimate, based on the business we do with Walmart and Sam’s (Club), it’s increased our American workers by about 10 percent as well as our sales in the retail sector by about 10 percent,” Herrera said. “So it’s a significant amount.”

Gro-Well, an environmentally-conscious manufacturer of lawn and garden products based in Tempe, has been operating in the Valley for nearly 50 years and has been a vendor for Walmart for more than a decade.

Patty Beuerlein, southwest sales manager for Gro-Well Brands, said the company is excited to offer their Arizona’s Best fertilizer, soils and bird seed products in Walmart. Arizona’s environment is “totally different” from other parts of the country, so Arizona’s Best focuses on creating products that will help rather than hurt the local ecology, Beuerlein said.

“They’re really a great company to work with,” Beuerlein said about Walmart. “They fit a need for the homeowners with their garden departments, to be able to give them our quality fertilizers that are locally-made and produced for the soils here in Arizona.”

Graham Bosch

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