Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is rolling out “quality carts” at 500 stores to ensure that produce is fresh, Reuters reports.
The carts, which have scales and boxes for culled produce, will have employees on the floor doing what are typically back-room tasks like sorting fresh produce and managing inventory counts.
Each store has one cart, with plans for more, and will be in all 5,000 U.S. stores by the end of the third quarter, company officials told Reuters. Wal-Mart also told the news service that it plans to continue hiring more fresh food managers and those employees will be in a third of U.S. stores by the end of the year.
Wal-Mart is already the country’s largest grocer, with nationwide grocery sales of $167 billion last year. Now it's making more or less steady moves to protect and boost that position.
The retail giant’s focus on fresh food is a major part of the turnaround effort detailed by its U.S. CEO, Greg Foran. In June, Foran told shareholders that the company had doubled sales of local produce in the U.S. over the last six years, is “focused on winning in fresh,” and is building direct relationships with grocery suppliers.
The company is also making smaller changes, like replacing plastic boxes for produce with wood ones that have a more farmers market feel, according to Reuters.
These moves, along with its food-focused executive shakeup last year, reveal how important grocery has become to the retailer. Wal-Mart is already dealing with perceptions that its food quality doesn’t compete adequately with other grocery stores, with cuts to the food-stamp program, and increasing food supply costs.
“Food is a big part of what Wal-Mart has become,” Yarbrough said. “It is a big traffic driver… you hope to sell more discretionary items while people are in there. That’s key for the longer term.”
Still, the retailer has also ended its association with Wild Oats organic foods line, seen as a cost-cutting move that could hamper its efforts to improve its food assortment and appeal to a wealthier customer. Organic food sales increased 16.7% to $13.4 billion for the year ended April 2, according to Nielsen data cited by the Wall Street Journal. Overall food sales increased just 1.6% to $468 billion during the same period.