After reporting decreases for the first quarter, Wal-Mart officials say they believe their commitment to improving their fresh departments will help boost sales the rest of the year.
After reporting decreases for the first quarter, Wal-Mart officials say they believe their commitment to improving their fresh departments will help boost sales the rest of the year.

First quarter sales for Wal-Mart were down 1.4% this year compared to last year, but the top executive for U.S. operations of the multinational corporation said improvements in areas such as fresh produce are driving better overall results as the second quarter begins.

Bill Simon, president and chief executive officer for Fayetteville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart U.S., told stockholders that despite a 1.8% decline in customer traffic, operating income increased 5.9%, according to a transcript of a May 16 conference call on financial results.

In fresh produce, Simon said the retailer saw “mid single-digit” positive growth in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014, Jan. 26 through April 26.

“We’ve made great progress in the quality of our fresh departments, and I’m particularly excited about the momentum in the produce area,” Simon said during the call. “We’ve improved our process for handling and culling produce, allowing us to get the freshest assortment in front of our customers.”

Mike Duke, president and chief executive officer for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the first quarter in the U.S. was marked by “considerable headwinds” that included a delay by the Internal Revenue Service in processing taxpayers’ refund checks, prolonged cold weather in March and April, and a 2% increase in payroll taxes. But, officials remain confident.

Simon said a report from the Nielson Company showed Wal-Mart U.S. gained 20 basis points of market share in the category of “food, consumables and health and wellness over-the-counter” products in the first quarter.

The company added 38 stores and converted eight in the U.S. during the first 13 weeks of its 2014 fiscal year, according to corporate financial report. In the second quarter, Simon said, the plan is to open and expand a total of 60 to 65 stores.

Wal-Mart U.S. had a 0.3% increase in net sales in the first quarter for a total of $66.6 billion. Gross profits increased 0.7% to $18.2 billion.