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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Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

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Sustainability

One Company is Helping Keep Walmart and Our Communities in the ‘Green’

Glenn H. Garrett set a standard for protecting community waterways long before “going green” became a common refrain.

In 1996, after witnessing the damage left behind by hurricanes earlier that year, the disabled Marine Corps veteran launched his own business, Retention Pond Services, in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C.

The storms had destroyed the basins that hold stormwater and they were overflowing. Glenn decided to do something about it. Luckily, four years in the Marine Corps – from 1980 to 1984 – prepared him for the hard work ahead.

“It’s not glamorous, not high tech. It’s done with good, old-fashioned manpower,” he said of his business.

Glenn developed a relationship with Walmart in 2002 when a store in Wilmington had a runoff issue in the parking lot. Walmart’s construction division called the state’s stormwater regulators and asked for a recommendation on whom to hire for help. Retention Pond Services was their answer.

When the same issue happened again, this time at another store, Walmart decided to expand the maintenance procedures developed with Glenn’s company. From there, it went nationwide.

Retention Pond Services now repairs, maintains and services stormwater systems for 1,200 Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs across the U.S. The goal is to help Walmart meet rules and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency and reduce the risk of water pollution.

“I remember my first meeting with Walmart [representatives], and they started talking about being ‘green’. I had never heard anyone talk about green – being environmentally conscious,” he said, adding that the retailer encourages suppliers to be responsible by leading by example.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but Glenn and his company would play a major role in bringing that to fruition. He said Walmart has become a standard bearer of stormwater maintenance for big-box retailers throughout the U.S.

Retention Pond Services began with 16 employees. Fast-forward 20 years and it now employs as many as 250 workers each year, including Glenn and three other senior leaders, with clients ranging from retailers to municipalities. The number fluctuates with the seasons, but one thing remains constant – there are always military veterans like Glenn on staff. Several veterans started in junior positions and moved up through the ranks.

The business was hiring veterans before Walmart introduced its Veterans Welcome Home Commitment in 2013, but Glenn said the initiative is a great encouragement for suppliers and veterans alike. “It goes back to [Walmart] recognizing our service and appreciating what we’ve done,” he said. As a veteran himself, Glenn knows that the skills and can-do attitude learned in the military easily transfer over to civilian jobs. Glenn takes pride in his team – “I’m only as good as my worst employee” – and in protecting the environment. Much of that pride stems from his childhood in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

“My grandfather used to tell me how great fishing was – about catching massive fish. When I was growing up, there were no fish. The bay was essentially dead, killed by pollution and runoff.”

In the 1970s, Maryland got involved in a save-the-bay campaign, and the federal government’s Water Quality Act followed in 1987. Those actions helped return fishing in the bay to its former glory.

Caring for the environment comes at a cost, whether it be time or money, but the results are well worth it. As U.S. businesses continue to grow, Glenn and his team are ready to step in and protect our communities.

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Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

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Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

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