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Color me curious about how two simultaneous developments unfolding in Wal-Mart’s corporate fresh produce camp will play out in the coming months.
Let’s begin this week with an overview of the mega-retailer’s “recommitment” to guaranteeing the quality and freshness standards of its fruits and vegetables alongside changes it’s making across its sourcing, training and store operations.
In the wake of reports earlier this year that Walmart was admittedly struggling with poor consumer perception and inadequate staffing of its fresh produce, the nation’s largest seller of produce revealed an aggressive plan earlier this month to tighten up its quality and freshness of its fruits and vegetables. Walmart is backing the pledge with a 100 percent money-back guarantee that if customers are not completely satisfied, they can bring back their receipt for a full refund, no questions asked, and no need to bring back the unsatisfactory produce.
The latter is certainly a bonus for all involved because the last thing a customer service associate needs to deal with in tandem with a displeased produce customer is a bag full of oogy overripe tomatoes, mushy tree fruit or blistering Bing cherries. What’s that? Did somebody say “fruit flies?” Please pass the Purel, stat.
But I digress.
“We're listening to our customers and delivering on our promise to offer great produce at the most affordable price," said Jack Sinclair, EVP of the food business for Walmart U.S.
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 staff, distribution centers and trucking systems.
• Executing independent weekly checks in its more than 3,400 stores that sell produce.
• Launching "Fresh Produce Schools" and other expanded training programs to 70,000 associates.
Berne H. Evans III, chairman of Sun Pacific, provided trading partner reinforcement. "Walmart has always been focused on providing its customers with top-quality fruits and vegetables, including our Cuties brand. 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."
Delivering the Goods
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 aimed at building long-term partnerships with farmers in specific growing regions and fields daily.
The key element of the program aims at Walmart’s commitment to double the company's sales of locally grown produce by December 2015. Walmart officials point to advanced supply chain and efficient logistics that have enabled it to decrease the days needed to get produce from growers to individual stores to homes. The chain says it will also conduct weekly QC benchmark checks against itself and competitors that will be measured via reports to every level of store management.
Further, Walmart also launched a produce training program, backed by handy-dandy quality guidebooks, to help clearly identify and properly handle peak-season produce, for 70,000 associates – including store, market and produce department managers from every store in the U.S.
I can certainly attest to being dubious about the appearance and take-home quality of past fresh produce purchases at my local Walmart, so it’s hardly surprising that the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer felt the need to address this as a pervasive problem in the first place. Nevertheless, the larger question in my mind is: How will it deliver on – and ultimately sustain – the pristine produce promise long-term?
Time shall tell, and we’ll be watching.
Next up, next time: Walmart’s decision to begin enforcing requirements of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) of its vendors.