Skip navigation
Walmart cart.jpeg Getty Images

Antitrust expert takes aim at Walmart, food suppliers in new book

“Barons” highlights negative impacts of consolidation in the food industry

A new book by Austin Frerick, an antitrust specialist at Yale University, takes aim at seven large companies in the food industry, including Walmart and six of the world’s largest food suppliers.

The book — “Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of the Food Industry” — focuses on the negative impacts that Frerick alleges these companies have on society, by virtue of their consolidated power. To a large extent, he blames the policies that have allowed these companies to amass their wealth and influence.

“A set of legal and policy changes driven by a radical laissez-faire ideology has resulted in a dramatic concentration of power in the food industry,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “This book is about how that transformation occurred and what it has meant for workers, families, and communities.”

The concentration of industrial hog farming in Iowa, for example, is “a big reason” why 61% of the state’s rivers  and 67% of its reservoirs “do not meet basic water quality standards,” Frerick writes.

In the chapter focusing on the retail grocery industry, Frerick alleges that Walmart’s expansion has led to the bankruptcy of at least 25 grocery chains and 13,000 grocery stores in a span of just 10 years. Walmart now captures at least 50% of grocery sales in 43 metropolitan areas and 160 smaller markets, according to Frerick.

He goes on to criticize the retailer for its low wages, its lease structure that limits competitive uses of closed store locations, the price pressures it places on suppliers, and its use of size and scale to its own advantage — and to the detriment of smaller rivals — such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, as recently reported in a study by the Federal Trade Commission.

“The company has triggered a race to the bottom in every way imaginable,” Frerick writes.

A spokesperson for Walmart could not be reached for comment.

The book comes just as the FTC is suing to block the proposed Kroger, Albertsons merger, which Frerick describes as being driven by Walmart’s competitive advantage.

In addition to Walmart and industrial hog farming, which focuses on the power of Iowa Select Farms, other chapters in the book take a critical look at:

  • Grain production, which singles out agriculture giant Cargill
  • Coffee market consolidation, which criticizes German conglomerate JAB Holding Co.
  • Dairy conglomerate Fair Oaks Farms
  • Berry company Driscoll’s
  • And Brazilian meatpacking company JBS

In a foreword to the book, investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, describes Frerick’s book as being “urgently important.”

“The way in which the United States  produces and distributes its food has a profound effect on worker rights, animal welfare, air quality, water quality, the landscape, rural communities, public health, international trade, and the global climate,” he writes.

Frerick is promoting his new book with a series of events at bookstores and libraries in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.