Walmart Applying Salesmanship, Scale and Sustainability In Fresh-Produce Push

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Walmart is clearly the world’s largest dry-goods grocer but it may surprise many to find out that the chain also is the world’s largest single seller of fresh produce. Now the company is trying to leverage that status by developing a new ad campaign about its produce chops, highlighting and simplifying a 100 percent money-back guarantee, stripping time out of the produce-logistics network and training store personnel to do a better job of weeding out bad fruit.

In doing so, Walmart is attempting to move to the front of grocery trends including more healthful eating and “local” sourcing of produce, and “sustainability” overall, in the same way that its major plunge into organic foods a few years ago vaulted it to trailblazing status from that of an irrelevant player.

“We’re the largest seller of produce in the world, but we have the opportunity to sell more as demand increases,” Jack Sinclair, Walmart’s executive vice president of grocery, told reporters on a conference call on Monday. “There’s a trend toward healthy eating at all demographic levels, and our goal is to make that as affordable as we possibly can. Our access to affordable produce, our systems and distribution network allow us to do that uniquely well.[more]

“But how do we make sure customers understand all of that, and the value of it? That’s very much at the heart of this guarantee—to make sure they really do understand that [produce] quality and price from Walmart will fit their family better going forward.”

Walmart long has provided a money-back guarantee on practically everything it sells, of course, but customers no longer will need to bring back the produce in question—just the receipt. The chain is also producing a “major produce advertising campaign,” Sinclair said, which will feature the real-life substitution of Walmart produce for regular fare at a California farmstand and focus on consumer reactions.

Redoubling its efforts on “local” sourcing of produce is also a big component of Walmart’s new produce push. (By “local,” Walmart means sourcing within a state.) Three years ago, the company had pledged to double its locally sourced produce by 2015, and Sinclair said “that program is well on its way.”

But in particular now, Walmart has been cutting out the middleman by delivering more produce from farms to store shelves, purchasing directly from growers and leveraging the company’s produce experts, distribution centers and trucking systems; about 80 percent of its produce now is being sourced directly. Walmart has also dispersed its produce buyers from headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., to places around the country, especially strong produce-growing regions such as California and Florida.

Such measures “allow us to get one day less in terms of flow to customers and the customers one more day when the product gets home,” Sinclair said.

Walmart also has been training 70,000 employees, both overall store management and rank-and-file produce-department personnel, to better recognize what constitutes good produce and bad produce to address quality inconsistencies among its stores. Part of that effort is regular checking of competitors’ produce departments. Another aspect is “actually showing pictures to [produce staffers] to make people understand what we expect for customers on every individual item and at each store.”

If Walmart workers don’t recognize bad fruit, customers certainly will. And avoiding that judgment is a huge object of Walmart’s new effort.

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