Make us your home page

Walmart puts new emphasis on fresher, quality produce

By emphasizing higher-quality fruits and vegetables at affordable prices, Walmart wants to democratize healthy eating. Analysts say the retailer also may be angling for more frequent shopping trips by consumers.

The Bentonville, Ark., chain said this week that it has reorganized its produce business to improve quality and freshness by relocating experts from its corporate headquarters to major growing regions to ensure quality, and streamlining produce's path to stores.

Walmart, the nation's largest grocer, is a frequent target of attack by critics. The company is building on a 2-year-old promise to offer more healthy foods in stores, make fresh food more widely available, and healthier options more affordable.

"We don't think there's any place for people who want to eat healthy to have to pay more for their food," said Jack Sinclair, Walmart's executive vice president of food.

Sinclair added that Walmart had "cut out the middleman" in produce, shipping it directly to distribution centers, and saving a day in transit. Walmart also trained 70,000 employees in an effort to maintain better-looking fruits and vegetables, pulling items that don't meet its standards, he said.

Walmart will run a national advertising campaign to garner awareness for the guarantee. Customers who don't like their produce can return it to the store for a full refund, "no questions asked," Sinclair said. "Just bring the receipt."

The company will be shopping at local competitors weekly to get a sense of offerings at other stores.

Although the move is clearly significant for Walmart, it doesn't appear to be ground breaking in the grocery industry.

Jim Hertel, managing partner at Willard Bishop in Barrington, Ill., estimated that Costco began deploying its produce experts to farms eight or more years ago.

"Produce is one of the two departments that will determine where shoppers will go," he said. "If you're anybody but a pure rock-bottom (price) shopper, the quality of meat and produce is really important."

That's an area where "Walmart has been behind the eight ball for a long time," Hertel said.

And although the discount chain is well-known for its low prices on nonperishable items, it's less of a destination for quality produce. Building those credentials, Hertel said, will be critical to getting more frequent visits.

Although it's easy to shop for paper towels quarterly, "You can't pantryload on strawberries," Hertel said.

Last month, Walmart cited produce sales as a bright spot in an otherwise grim first quarter in its U.S. business.

"We've improved our process for handling and culling produce, allowing us to get the freshest assortment in front of our customers," Bill Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., said.

Sinclair said Monday that Walmart now sources produce in all 50 states. He said Walmart has seen shoppers make healthier choices as prices for healthier items reach parity with less healthy options.

"We want to make sure price is not a factor in that choice," he said.

Walmart puts new emphasis on fresher, quality produce 06/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 10:45pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Miami-based Related Group has broken ground on a 400-unit apartment complex planned on the site of the former Tampa Tribune building in downtown Tampa.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  2. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.
  3. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sells house for $3 million to new player

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's multi-million Davis Islands home is staying in the Lightning family. Yzerman sold his 6,265-square-foot house Monday to new defenseman Dan Girardi for $3 million.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman sold for $3 million Monday to Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. | [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  4. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce


    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  5. For the first time in Florida, a white person is set to be executed for killing a black person.

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man Thursday for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with the help of a drug that has never been used before in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]