Sustainability

Feeding the World Demands Change from Farm to Fork

Last weekend, in the wake of one of the longest, coldest winters in recent memory, my family and I walked in the spring sunshine, past stands of oaks and blossoming redbuds, along the winding trails of Crystal Bridges.  We love our new Ozarks home, and have been reveling in the signs of spring all around us. We are excited to celebrate Earth Day in “the Natural State” of Arkansas.

Here at Walmart, we’ve been marking Earth Day with the release of our Global Responsibility Report and the renewal of our commitment to sustainability. While we are proud of our progress in energy, waste, and product chains, we have a long way to go.  

Nowhere is this more the case than in the food chain.  In the next 30 years, the world population will approach 9 billion, putting further stress on already-strained natural capital.  As the world’s largest grocer, we are concerned with one of the greatest challenges of our time: how to help provide people on every continent with food that is safe, affordable, and sustainable for people and planet.


No one can solve this alone.  Progress will require collaborative problem solving among people all along the food chain – from farmers and fishers to transporters, development agencies, manufacturers, scientists, activists, regulators, retailers and consumers.  It’s why, for example, Walmart recently joined USAID’s groundbreaking Global Development Lab, along with a number of other organizations, to develop innovative solutions to development challenges such as this.

Will you join Walmart and so many others in creating a more sustainable food chain? Here are just a few of the ways we are trying to make a difference, from field (and ocean) to fork:

Resilient sourcing: We’re working with farmers to adopt innovative agriculture practices that preserve the environment and are fair to the people who use them. For example, we are working with partners on technologies to reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and to conserve water; and we recently joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Fair Food Program – an initiative to improve farmworkers’ working conditions and wages.

Waste reduction: We’re addressing food waste all along the chain - for example, by gleaning fallen produce from the ground, and making use of an entire crop.  We cull fresh food from our stores before it goes bad, so that instead of becoming waste sent to landfill, it gets sent to hunger relief organizations and then on to people who need it most.  

Food safety: Walmart was the first U.S. grocer to require suppliers of food products such as produce, meat, fish, poultry and ready-to-eat foods to have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards. We are bringing our food safety approaches to our operations around the world, including not only North America, but in many countries across Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

Food security and access: Improving access to affordable food is a core part of our business strategy. It’s why we’re saving customers more than $1 billion each year on fresh produce and opening stores in food deserts. Earlier this month, we announced the rollout of affordable organic foods under the Wild Oats label.  And for years, we’ve worked with food banks to provide more links from our stores and suppliers, as well as the infrastructure to support a permanent cold chain – all in an effort to route millions of pounds of food to communities that need it most.

Making healthy easy: Of course, it’s not just about feeding the world – it’s about feeding families well. So we’re taking the homework out of healthy shopping, working with suppliers to reduce sugars and sodium and remove trans fats in everyday foods, while making the more nutritious choices easier to spot with our Great For You icon in stores. We’re providing tips and tools for how to turn these foods into simple, healthy and delicious meals, and working with valuable partners to educate families on cooking skills and nutrition.

We are committed to using our strengths – our market access, investment dollars, technological expertise and scale – to help others.  Please join us; bring your unique strengths to the table, and work with us, to set the table for everyone. 

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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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