Five things I want to see in Walmart’s Produce 2.0

produce with pamela

I’ve been watching Walmart BB #:143789 with a critical eye for more than a decade. Actually, I’m rounding out a decade and a half of professional Walmart critiquing.

The latest overhaul, dubbed Produce 2.0 by executive vice president and chief merchandising officer Steve Bratspies at a Barclays conference last week, is “a lot about visual set and experience inside the store that the customer will see directly.”

Ok, Mr. Bratspies, I’m waiting. I see a lot of Walmart stores, and I see a lot of room for improvement.

Every time I’m promised sweeping change, we get some new lighting and maybe a different color of RPC, and not a lot of follow-through in the in-store execution.

Does anyone else remember “Fresh-Over?” I do.

I also remember when we were getting enhanced produce handling training in the Walmart Academies. There’s even one built out back behind the store closest to my house in Cedar Park, TX.

But in this Produce 2.0, I hear there’s going to be changes in the way Walmart works with suppliers to ensure the freshest product on the shelves, and better backroom receiving. That’s all well and good, but what are we doing here to make sure that exceptionally fresh produce makes it out the front door in a consumer’s bag?

Here’s five sweeping changes I’d like to see in stores:

A smaller footprint in fresh produce. Hear me out. I know this is the last thing a lot of people would expect me to say, and I’m not saying Walmart should deemphasize fresh produce, but have you SEEN what Aldi can do with 400 square feet? I’m saying there’s a lot of redundant sets, like three or four different areas selling mandarin oranges, and 20 feet of peaches at the dragging end of the season. That tells me we’re trying to stretch the supplies we have over too much space and it’s just not appealing because the sets often have a problem with…

OUT OF STOCKS. Please. Fix this. I regularly go in the stores near my house, only to find a dozen, or more, empty RPCs. Are they out of stocks, or just too much space dedicated to an item? Most of the time it looks like an out of stock. This is the #1 complaint from consumers dissatisfied with a store. I’ve heard a lot of back and forth about why individual store staff would rather have an out of stock than order from a secondary supplier, but as a consumer, I don’t care. Empty space is unsightly and doesn’t sell anything.

This cart needs to go away. I’ve never seen the cull cart at Walmart NOT overflowing, and it just tells me that tons of stuff is not selling and it makes me wonder what wouldn’t fit into this cart that day. That sounds harsh, but it’s a giant, brightly-decorated garbage can and we all know it.

Proper attention paid to the basics of merchandising. Remember those 20 feet of peaches? They’re all in the refrigerator – Every. Single. Time. Berries go in the reefer case. Stone fruit does not. I’ve bought so many promising peaches at Walmart this summer, only to have my hopes dashed with sad, mealy, tasteless lumps.

More of this! I’m starting to see things like “Manager’s Special” and personalized recommendation signage in produce. I think it’s great to give consumers a sense of local stewardship of the store they shop. Too often, Walmart can be labeled a nameless, faceless, corporate giant and I find that’s not the case when I interact with people who work there. The gal who picks my Grocery Pickup is fantastic and dedicated. I’d love to see stores reinforce this.

I know I can come across as anti-Walmart sometimes, but I truly want to see them succeed. They have a store within 10 miles of 90% of the U.S. population. That’s a tremendous opportunity to increase access to fresh produce to underserved communities and I don’t take it lightly.

I’ll be watching for Produce 2.0 to hit a store near me.

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.