Aiming higher: Walmart looks for better produce results

06/04/2013 12:12:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstWal-Mart is trying to shape up its produce department image. Check out The Packer’s coverage here. This follows coverage in April that reviewed Wal-Mart’s out of stock issues.

This week’s development is told in the chain’s own release

From the release:

BENTONVILLE, Ark., June 3, 2013 – Walmart, the nation's largest grocer and seller of produce, announced today new efforts that will ensure the quality and freshness of the fruits and vegetables that it offers customers. The retailer is standing behind this promise by rolling out a 100 percent money-back guarantee* and making changes across produce sourcing, training and operations.

"We're listening to our customers and delivering on our promise to offer great produce at the most affordable price," said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of the food business for Walmart U.S. "We are so sure our customers will be pleased with the fruits and vegetables they buy in our stores, they can receive a full refund if they aren't completely happy."

The retailer's initiative includes:

• Delivering produce from farms to store shelves faster by purchasing fruits and vegetables directly from growers and leveraging Walmart's produce experts, distribution centers and trucking systems;

• Executing independent weekly checks in its more than 3,400 Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets and Express Stores that sell produce; and,

• Launching Fresh Produce Schools and other expanded training programs to 70,000 associates.

"Walmart has always been focused on providing its customers with top-quality fruits and vegetables, including our Cuties brand," said Berne H. Evans III, chairman of Sun Pacific, a Walmart produce supplier. "As a direct result of how Walmart has stored and handled our product, both Cuties and our Ripe and Easy Kiwis have been tremendous sales success stories at Walmart."

Leveraging Produce Experts and Delivering Fruits and Vegetables to Customers Faster

To improve quality and freshness, Walmart has hired produce experts to work directly with farmers in the key growing regions where the company has produce-buying offices. Building long-term partnerships with farmers while having Walmart associates in the regions – and in the fields everyday – where produce is grown has made it possible for Walmart to select farmers who grow the best fruits and vegetables. As part of this program, Walmart works closely with local growers in the U.S. to fulfill its commitment to double the company's sales of locally grown produce by December 2015.

Walmart's produce offices, combined with Walmart's advanced supply chain and efficient trucking network, have enabled the retailer to decrease the days needed to get produce from growers to individual stores. Reducing the number of days produce is in transit has made it possible for Walmart to deliver a fresher product to customers so it lasts longer at home.

Weekly Produce Checks

Independent teams responsible for checking Walmart produce departments are going into stores each week to ensure only the freshest fruits and vegetables are on Walmart store shelves. Results are reported to every level of store management. Through this program, Walmart is benchmarking itself and its competitors week over week.

Fresh Produce Schools

Walmart recently launched a produce training program for 70,000 associates. The program features a new produce school where associates – including store managers, market managers and produce department managers from every Walmart store in the U.S. – learn more about handling fruits and vegetables. Associates are also equipped with quality guides that clearly illustrate how to identify top produce.

"Empowering our associates with the tools to guarantee our produce quality is a critical component to our 100 percent money-back guarantee," said Sinclair. "These efforts, combined with the weekly produce checks and operational changes, will ensure our customers bring home the freshest fruits and vegetables."

Today's announcement follows a number of recent commitments by Walmart to make food healthier and healthier food more affordable. As part of its healthier foods commitment, Walmart has saved customers more than $2.3 billion over the last two years on fresh fruits and vegetables in produce sections across the country.

For more information, including b-roll and images, please visit news.walmart.com.

*If customers are not completely satisfied with Walmart's produce, they can bring back their receipt for a full refund. No questions asked and no need to bring back the produce.

 

Of all the above actions, I like the idea of the “produce school” for Walmart produce department associates. This investment could pay big benefits for those associates who actually stay in the produce department for any length of time - hardly a certain proposition.

Of course, the weekly independent produce department checks will provide accountability, but the public will never know the results of those internal surveys. 

As one observer told me, this produce initiative speaks to Walmart’s thin skin over recent criticism about out-of-stock issues. For Walmart’s sake, this latest volley has to be more than marketing by news release.

Walmart execs may do well to refer to a recent Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group thread on the perceived deficiencies of the Walmart produce department and how those can be rectified. 

I asked:

What is your best guess of Wal-Mart shoppers who buy fresh produce items when they visit the store?

Most discussion group members estimated that only between 20% and 40% of Walmart’s shoppers buy fresh fruits and vegetables from the retail giant. So it goes without saying that Walmart has much work to do to even attract more of its own shoppers to the fresh produce department.

Check out a new discussion about Walmart new produce push on The Packer's Market:



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