Walmart faces a challenge: Keep fresh produce looking fresh

An employee rolls a cargo dolly through the grocery section of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Walmart announced today it's making a big push to improve the quality of the fresh produce it sells. More than half of Walmart's sales now come from groceries, but it's received complaints that its produce is mediocre. C. Britt Beamer, chairman of America's Research Group, says the retailer's fresh produce has been "inconsistent."

Walmart says it's going to fix that with better employee training, weekly produce checks and by cutting out the middleman. It already buys over 80 percent of its fruit and vegetables directly. It's promised to double sales of locally-grown by the end of 2015. Beamer says that's the biggest challenge for such a huge company.

"Before you may have had let's say, 40 suppliers for your produce, now you may have to have 250 suppliers," says Beamer. "It's just a lot more suppliers, a lot more people to deal with and a lot more chances for failure out there."

Wallmart's also offering a money-back guarantee on that wilted lettuce or those mushy apples, no questions asked. All the customer needs is the receipt.

Bruce Peterson, former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Walmart, says Walmart has proved time and again it can compete with higher-priced retailers. "But to change consumer perception in terms of quality is a difficult undertaking, even for Walmart," says Peterson.

Peterson says he was struck by his former employer's decision to send 70,000 workers to a produce training program. He says the retailer known for hiring generalists is apparently finding out it's wise to have some specialists on the store floor as well.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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