Sustainability

Nature - we can't live without it

© Benjamin Drummond

Conservation International Vice Chair Harrison Ford says it best: "Nature doesn't need people. People need nature." Think about it. Could any of us survive without what nature provides us – freshwater, food, lifesaving medicines, fertile soil and natural pollinators? The answer is no. Today, the majority of people on Earth live in cities, seemingly far removed from the sources of our food, water, energy and material goods. Yet it is all interconnected: a massive storm in Asia or a drought in Africa can threaten the supply chains that Walmart customers depend upon. Walmart understands this and 10 years ago it led the way by embracing the concept of sustainability.

With its sustainability goals in renewable energy, zero waste and supply chains, it is an unparalleled leader in this area. As the world's largest retailer, when Walmart takes an action it can have a larger impact than many nations. Walmart has taken sustainability from an afterthought in the corporate board room to an integral part of its business plan. Other companies see this and are realizing that incorporating sustainability into their own plans is the smart way to do business.

I had the pleasure of speaking at Walmart’s Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting yesterday and I could see and hear the commitment of everyone in the room – from corporate leaders to associates – to the company's sustainability goals. We at Conservation International have had the honor of partnering with Walmart for 10 years and we look forward to many more decades of working together to protect the natural capital that we all depend on. I like to say that it is in the enlightened self-interest of nations, businesses, communities – all of us – to protect nature.

 Over the next four decades, as the world’s population grows from seven billion to over nine billion, the demand for food, water and energy will double. Our already stressed planet will become more so as an increasing amount of nature's resources are depleted. At the rate we are going, we will need two Earth's to provide for us. Walmart understands the value of nature and can help spread the word to nations and other businesses so that they too will see the value and be willing to protect nature. More businesses and nations need to understand that there is a direct connection between nature, human well-being and our economic and national security. Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Walmart would become a global leader in sustainability? What an amazing evolution! What a gift to all the world.

Let me be clear: the challenge is daunting. Walmart has the opportunity, once again, to lead the way. Innovation must be at the heart of solving these problems and Walmart has the history of success, as well as the relationships with partners across the planet, to push the search for innovative solutions to ensure sustainable supply chains. I am optimistic about the future and the growing understanding that societies require, at their very foundation, a vibrant and healthy natural world. Focusing on ecosystem health and vitality is both good for business and truly in the enlightened self-interest of us all.

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Innovation

This Store is Helping Reimagine the Supercenter

Last year, supercenter #5260 in Rogers, Arkansas, got a facelift. Added into the refreshed look were several new approaches to technologies, services, products and layouts, which are currently being tested with customers. Early reports are positive, but it’s too soon to tell what’s working and what isn’t. What’s clear: Things that seem straightforward could show up in new stores or remodels. Store 5260 is simply the first step toward the supercenter of the future, but it’s critical to informing upcoming tests.

Room to Play: The electronics and entertainment areas have a sleek, modern look that customers say feels very welcoming and on-trend. “One of the things that we noticed early on as people walk by electronics is that they stop and look, and then they get drawn in," said Sherry Curtis-Swenson, the store’s manager.

A New Angle on Fresh: A reorganization (along with improved sight lines and angled aisles) puts berries — a growing category — in the front of the department. Bananas, already a huge draw, are toward the back to help lead customers through. Purple signage in Fresh and throughout the store connects to an increase in organic products.

Car Care, Customer Care: Along with new digital menu boards and signage in automotive, there’s a comfortable customer waiting area — furnished with items from Walmart.com. Customers can watch TV, enjoy a coffee, charge their phones, and see their cars being serviced.

Pickup, Up Front: In-Store Pickup and Walmart Services share space up front at Store 5260. It’s clearly marked so customers can find it and get their orders quickly.

Check Out Your Way: There are multiple options for checkout. Scan & Go supplies a wand so customers can scan items as they’re shopping. Hybrid registers can be self-service or manned by associates, depending on the need. And high-velocity checkouts — where a cashier scans items while the customer moves through the line to pay — are more than three times faster than conventional checkouts.

One-Stop Baby Shop: The new baby department combines it all in one space. There’s even a stroller garage for hands-on tryouts. “Customers love being able to move the strollers around,” Sherry said.

Local Eats: A local food truck operator, Big Rub BBQ, has restaurant space in the store, with lots of glass and natural light — and even seating on an outdoor patio! 

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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Sustainability

Hold the Salt: A Story of Reformulating Food

Big change is coming to the grocery aisles.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that partially hydrogenated oils – most commonly found in industrially produced fats and oils – be eliminated as a food ingredient by June 2018. Research clearly shows a link between trans fats and cardiovascular disease. So a timetable has been set to take action.

A big reason why I work for Walmart is that we’re constantly looking for ways we can help people live better – oftentimes, before federal mandates like these are handed down. In fact, by the end of this month, we anticipate having successfully removed all partially hydrogenated oils from Walmart private brand food – such as Great Value – sold in our U.S. stores, a goal we’ve been working toward since 2011. But we’re not stopping there.

Simultaneously, we’ve been working to reduce sodium in Walmart’s private brand foods and national brand food products by 25% and added sugars by 10% by the end of December 2015. We’ve long since surpassed our sugar-related reformulation goal. And, while we’re tracking about 5% behind our sodium reduction goal – results through December 2015 are being vetted and will be announced publicly this spring – we continue to work toward completion and are proud of the precedent we're setting across the grocery industry.

There have been some big wins along the way to help us move the needle. One example was when we set out to reduce sodium in all varieties of Great Value Potato Chips and Great Value Kettle Cooked Chips. We successfully removed a combined 30 tons of sodium from 36 million bags of chips annually. And, according to test data, we did so without compromising taste. To put that into perspective, 30 tons is equivalent to an entire Walmart truck (cab and trailer) or about 70 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In the end, every slice of progress in the reformulation of the thousands of private and national brand food items Walmart sells contributes to a healthier tomorrow for our customers. But the reality is, you can’t simply go out and turn the dial down on sodium, sugar and trans fats and say, ‘We’re there. We did it.’ Our palates are accustomed to certain tastes, so the key is taking small, incremental steps toward long-term change. You're basically giving consumers’ palates a chance to adjust rather than shocking them all at once.

Every step forward involves extensive time, testing, evaluation and more. Many of the wins we’re realizing today are several years in the making – and, in most cases, there was no road map for how to get there. As senior director of private brand food initiatives, I’ve been deeply entrenched in helping develop a road map. We recognized, for example, that the majority of sodium in the diet of the average American comes from processed foods. So we’ve focused our efforts on the 47 most popular processed food categories, which include such examples as cheeses, cereal, crackers, canned tomatoes and more.

One interesting discovery along the way was that the sodium within the recipes of our own Great Value breads varied from one production facility to another. So by working with each facility to understand needs and challenges, we were able to develop a standardized process that, in turn, helped produce long-term results in sodium reduction. There are a variety of hurdles and challenges to reformulation work within private brands, and there is the potential for even more with national brands. But we’ve already proven that, with a relentless work ethic, real progress can be made in the areas of sodium, sugar and trans fat reformulation. We continue to identify and zero in on additional opportunities.

There was a day when all of this seemed so overwhelming. But we’re creating a road map. We’re building best practices. We’re growing relationships, learning from our experiences and helping to influence a healthier tomorrow. 

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Business

Hello, Nicaragua! Welcoming Walmart to Managua

My team ended 2015 in a big way. After months of hard work, we opened the first Walmart store in Nicaragua, offering our everyday low prices on a wide assortment of 40,000 products – a very significant value proposition for the Nicaraguan market. We know this to be true because people are welcoming us with open arms.

The day we opened, literally hundreds of enthusiastic people attended the grand opening of our supercenter in Managua, ready to save money on everything from clothes, electronics and paint to toys, appliances and groceries. Watching the excitement and knowing that this store is making a difference for these people reminded me once again of our mission to help people live better by simply paying less for the things they need.

This is a $17 million investment in a modern, comfortable store of 5,890 square meters (over 63,000 square feet) that created 150 direct jobs (the associates that will work in the supercenter) and 1,575 estimated indirect jobs (jobs as a result of the supercenter such as cleaning crews and suppliers). And, because we strongly encourage the growth of local businesses, a great majority of our assortment comes from small and medium-sized Nicaraguan suppliers.   

Walmart operates 87 stores in Nicaragua under other formats like Palí (discount), Maxi Palí (warehouse) and La Union (supermarket), but this is the first Walmart-branded location. We are now offering the distinctive standard of service, price and assortment through our iconic Walmart supercenter. And the excitement we’ve seen is definitely our major reward. 

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Dish on Gumbaya: A Foodie Follows a Dream

When I moved from Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C., five years ago, it marked a new beginning for me. I was stepping away from 20 years in the insurance business, into a warmer climate and yearning to return to my culinary roots.

When I was growing up, my family owned a food processing plant. I was running a restaurant up north by the time I was 19. I’ve always been curious about flavors and what’s out there. Whenever I travel, I’m that guy who only eats local cuisine. And when I began digging into my new surroundings, I discovered the history of gumbo in the U.S. – which people naturally associate with Louisiana – can actually be traced back to South Carolina in the 1600s.

The first recipe I developed when I set foot in Myrtle Beach was my own gumbo. There were so many beautiful ingredients down here – fresh shrimp, whitefish, Andouille sausage, okra – and when I dipped my spoon into that first bowl, I had a moment. I thought, “This is it. I’ve really got something here.”

I knew this was a recipe that would make South Carolina proud. My gumbo immediately started winning people over at local farmers markets and festivals. I looked into opportunities to get my product on the market, from selling to local restaurants to partnering with a delivery service in the area. But the day the district manager at our local Walmart gave me 15 minutes of his time – that was the day everything changed.

That was Dec. 17, 2013. When I walked out 45 minutes later, it was with the understanding we had a deal. By May 2015, my Carolina Gumbaya was being sold in the frozen section of 17 Walmart stores in South Carolina. Today, that’s grown to 137 Walmart stores in five states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It really has been an amazing experience, to see so many people embrace this recipe I created in the kitchen of my own home. But when people ask me if it has taken me by surprise, I have to tell them, “Honestly, no.”

Frozen food has come a long way in recent years. Carolina Gumbaya – a name drawn from the words gumbo and jambalaya – isn’t packed with fillers and preservatives. The label doesn’t have words you can’t pronounce. There are 12 whole, wild-caught shrimp in every one-quart container. And the blonde roux I developed, along with my secret spices, are a few of the differentiating factors.

Turn on any food channel or open a food publication and you’re going to hear about the flavor of the South. It’s the South’s time to shine on the culinary stage – so products like mine have an opportunity to spread across the country. Along the way, Walmart’s commitment to domestic manufacturing is opening the door for small entrepreneurs like my business partner, Laura Spencer, and me. Products like Carolina Gumbaya are helping create jobs at growing U.S.-based companies like Duke Food Productions, the company who helps produce our product. These kinds of stories are a win-win for everyone. And we’re just getting started.

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