Can Wal-Mart increase its fresh produce appeal?

04/23/2013 01:21:00 PM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstWhile on the road recently I was visiting with a marketer who mentioned that Wal-Mart is (no shock here) seeking to increase the percentage of its customers who buy fresh produce when they visit supercenters and other formats.

How Wal-Mart will do this is an open question. The first question is this: what percent of Wal-Mart shoppers currently buy fresh produce? I’ve created a poll question on the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group about just that; find it here.

After my recent coverage of Wal-Mart’s out of stock issue, I ask all readers an honest question: Can Wal-Mart move the fresh produce demand needle for the customers it already has? If so, how? Can the chain create a more upscale image in the department?

A few critics are unsparing in their criticism of Wal-Mart because of its apparent quest to be something it is not.

Economist Desmond O’Rourke noted that Wal-Mart has enthusiastically embraced initiatives like buying local, fighting obesity and combating food deserts by placing stores in underserved areas. O’Rourke said the perception is that the global chain bounces from initiative to initiative for public relations purposes. “You never can tell how much (buying local) is actually going to happen,” O’Rourke said. “A lot of that is for show.”

O’Rourke’s said Wal-Mart’s push for sustainability has turned out to be a “mine field” because of the complexity of the measurements.

Is Wal-Mart overthinking?

As one retail observer told me, Wal-Mart is a place where people go to buy stuff. It is not Whole Foods.

Its seems a reasonable conclusion that company executives should increase focus on selling more stuff – including fresh produce – and worry less about trendy public relations initiatives.

 

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s twitter account sent me a direct message the other day urging me to retweet a blog post from their site. I gladly complied, especially after visiting the post called “Helping produce businesses in many ways

One of the things I picked up on while reading the blog was news of a June 27 web seminar to help companies get a better understanding of the agency's procurement process. Called “Learn How to Sell Fruits and Vegetables to USDA,” the session will cover what products the agency buyers and how to participate in the process.

Register for that web seminar here

 I also read about a new wrinkle from the USDA market news service  called the Custom Average Tool.  From USDA:

This new tool makes it easy to view average price trends over a period of time, select a range of data desired, download data in a spreadsheet, and much more. Choosing which varieties or products to carry and what the price levels might be at a given time of year are easier for a wholesaler to determine when they can easily visualize average price trends compared to movement in a dashboard.

Sounds very useful to buyers and sellers, not to mention trade journalists....

Follow me on twitter at @tckarst.

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Denise Donohue    
DeWitt, Michigan  |  May, 06, 2013 at 05:12 AM

Tom - Very provocative. Can't decide if I like this better, or the one that follows on frozen food makeover. Excellent opining!

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