Walmart, the nation’s largest grocer and seller of produce, announced Monday new efforts that will ensure the quality and freshness of the fruits and vegetables that it offers customers by buying direct from growers.
The world’s largest produce seller unveiled a new initiative to speed up delivery of farm-grown goods from the fields to the shelves by cutting out many of its middlemen and buying 80% of its produce directly from local growers.
The retailer is standing behind its promise to provide fresh produce by rolling out a 100% 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,” Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of the food business for Walmart U.S, stated in a press release. “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.”
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. The company maintains that 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.
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.
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% 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.”
Monday’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 claims it has saved customers more than $2.3 billion over the last two years on fresh fruits and vegetables in produce sections across the country.