“I don’t know what would have happened to Wal-Mart if we had laid low and never stirred up the competition. My guess is that we would have remained a strictly regional operator.” Sam Walton
Wal-Mart entered Nicaragua in 2005 and became Wal-Mart Centroamerica in 2006. The total retail units in Nicaragua are 89 (as of 2015). This includes 64 Pali stores, 16 Maxi Pali, 1 Wal-Mart Supercenter, and 8 La Unión stores.
And now, make that 65 Pali stores because Moyogalpa on Ometepe Island had their grand opening on June 30th.
Wal-Mart has been part of our lives in the United States for over half a century. Debates continue to rage as to the impact on the U.S. economy and society, as well as the positive and negative influences of this powerhouse. Time will tell what impact Wal-Mart has on our little island, but I already see some changes.
Pali has wide isles, cash registers, and shopping carts. We can use our credit card to purchase groceries. The day of the grand opening, most people were carefully comparing prices and few people were buying. It is still a novelty on the island of small pulperias and veggie trucks that go door to door selling their wares.
I was most excited about the meat section. Until recently, the meat in our small stores has not been displayed. Instead, we always have to ask for our chicken, hamburger, and pork roasts. Then, they send an employee to a back room where they dig through the freezer to find the frozen cut of meat we want.
Pali has fresh meat and rotisserie chicken! It is unusual to find fresh meat on the island because it has to be transported from the mainland and without large refrigerated trucks, the meat is always frozen so that it transports easier.
We wonder what happens to the fresh meat in Pali when it is no longer fresh. Do they feed it to the stray dogs? How often is the meat and fresh produce brought to Ometepe Island? We are watching closely to find the answers.
The Central American Pali stores cater to a Latin American market, so generally the products sold are rice, beans, and low-cost products. To me, it is like a giant pulperia, but with everything neatly labeled and organized.
It is a great store if you are looking for the basics of everyday Nicaraguan cooking, but we prefer items that we can’t buy at Pali, like peanut butter and good whole wheat bread.
Two weeks after the grand opening, we have noticed some subtle and not so subtle changes in the other grocery stores in Moyogalpa. The Mini-Super installed fancy coolers for their fresh meat display. Vegetables in decorative bins line the walls, like leaf lettuce, and broccoli. The Mini-Super has morphed into a grocery store that caters to the tastes of foreigners. The Mini-Super is comparable to La Union, which offers higher priced imported items. They have several varieties of peanut butter, a great selection of cereal and wheat bread, and now they have thin stick pretzels!! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see Snyder’s thin stick pretzels. It is the little things in life that tickle me!
Pali has created a healthy competition in Moyogalpa. Our little fish store now specializes in items from Pricemart in Managua. I have standing order of chocolate chips, which I can’t find in other stores on the island. Yesterday, I noticed that they put a chalk board outside with all the prices of the meats they offer for sale from Pricemart. I can order items online through their email and they are in the store in several days.
The small pulperias will always thrive because they offer credit to the poorer families. Our Friday veggie truck still comes to our door and I hope that continues because they always have a good selection of veggies and will order special items for us if they are in season.
So, what happens when Wal-Mart comes to a small rural island town? Here, people celebrate! With our population of 40,000 residents and numerous tourists, there is something for everyone. Pali blends into the environment with a small store that caters to the local population with low-cost food items. It forces other grocery stores to find their marketing niche offering different items to a diverse population of tourists, expats, and local residents.
Change is good. There are still a number of competing grocery stores, offering consumers many choices. Pali has brought healthy competition and new marketing skills to Ometepe Island. So, to some degree, Wal-Mart coming to town will help local entrepreneurs and small business owners who do not directly compete with the same items Wal-Mart sells.
Wal-Mart is stirring up the competition, yet I see it as positive. But, you can be sure that I will be watching carefully to see the positive and negative impacts of Wal-Mart coming to Ometepe Island.