Walmart will soon stock an Idaho company’s all-natural compost, produced from dairy cattle waste.
Cowgirl Compost LLC, of Boise, passed the first round of this year’s open call, which lets local companies meet with Walmart buyers and make the case for the major retailer to carry their products.
Walmart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, announced earlier this year that, for the sixth time, the company was accepting applications for its Open Call program. Suppliers that are selected fly to Arkansas to make a pitch to the company’s buyers.
Altogether, roughly 600 products were pitched and 500 companies attended, Walmart representatives said. Forty-eight states, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, were represented.
Some companies get deals on the spot. That’s what happened with Cowgirl Compost.
The company had originally been thinking of approaching Albertsons when it heard about the Walmart open call and decided to give it a shot, said Jennifer Cummins, the owner, who was raised on a dairy farm south of Twin Falls. “We had no idea whether they were thinking about soil amendments,” she said.
Soon after submitting her application, she got an invitation to Bentonville.
“It was an amazing experience,” Cummins said, describing it as “life-changing.” “It couldn’t have gone any better. In the meeting, they gave us the ‘yes,’ and we stood up and shook hands.”
But what’s so special about the poop from Idaho cows?
“We only use dairy cow compost,” Cummins said. “Dairy cows eat a very nutritious, well-rounded diet to help them produce milk. The benefit is they produce nutrient-rich manure, which we compost.”
The entire process takes nine months, and the result is a product that looks like dirt, has no smell and yet still has all the nutrients, Cummins said.
“We spend a lot of time making sure it’s truly composted,” she said.
While Cowgirl Compost’s office is in Boise, the actual composting takes place in Hammett, in Elmore County. The manure comes from dairies in the Magic Valley.
“It’s fair for both sides,” Cummins side. “One of the biggest parts of having a healthy dairy is having clean space for cows.”
The waste management component of the dairy business is always happy to have an outlet, she said. That’s what gave Cummins the idea.
“I became aware of compost because, on my dairy, we were composting a lot,” she said. “Farmers use compost on a massive scale to produce a massive amount of food.”
The company started in her family’s dairy in Buhl, she said. It costs less than $1 per 40-pound bag — about one cubic foot — to produce the compost, and the current price at Lowe’s is $1.36 a bag, Cummins said.
She’s not worried about running out of the primary ingredient to supply the potentially vast Walmart market.
“There’s plenty of product available,” she said. “It’s a matter of quality management.”
Her company will need to add equipment, and she would like to hire more people.
“There’s all those intricacies of getting from here to there,” she said. Some of those intricacies include how much the finished product will cost and what stores Cummins will supply, she said.
Last year, Idaho company Fresca Mexican Foods LLC went through Walmart’s process, and it is scheduled to launch up to six products in 1,100 of Walmart’s 4,700 stores, including the Nampa and Caldwell locations.
This isn’t the first time that compost made from Idaho dairies has hit the national stage, figuratively speaking. In 2013, DairyPoop, a Nampa company, made it to the final four to have its product advertised in the Super Bowl through a competition sponsored by Intuit Inc.
However, the eventual winner was Goldieblox, which makes engineering toys for girls, and the Nampa company appears to have, uh, pooped out.
Statesman Business Editor David Staats contributed.