BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Coming soon to Wal-Mart shelves are stuffed donut bites, vacuum-sealed paleo meals and Great Value brand organic frozen meals. These are a few of the items being tested in the retailer’s new Culinary and Innovation Center at its Bentonville headquarters.
The 12,000-sq.-ft. center opened this past June and features 10 test kitchens, including a studio-style chef’s kitchen and replicas of the bakery and deli kitchens found in Wal-Mart’s stores, a variety of stoves, ovens and microwaves that may be found in a consumer’s home kitchen, an adult beverage testing lab and consumables testing lab, and a double-sided sensory testing lab.
Previously, the company had dedicated testing spaces scattered throughout its home office, said John Forrest Ales, director of corporate communications for Wal-Mart. “This facility gives us more room to test and puts all of our Wal-Mart US food and consumables testing areas in one space,” Ales said. “For example, the sensory lab can accommodate up to 12 different tests at a time.”
The opening of Wal-Mart’s Culinary and Innovation Center builds on the success the company has seen through a similar facility at the Sam’s Club headquarters, said Charles Redfield, executive vice president, Food, Wal-Mart US.
“Innovation has long been part of Wal-Mart’s culture,” Redfield wrote on a corporate blog post. “Testing items, listening to our customers’ feedback and coming up with great product ideas — like Mystery Peeps and our new Sam’s Choice premium ice creams — are some of the best parts of our jobs.”
Wal-Mart’s teams test thousands of items a year. Recent examples tested at the new center include the first-ever organic frozen entrees under the retailer’s exclusive Great Value brand, which will debut in October, and Clear American Ice sparkling flavored water, another private brand item, which is sweetened with sucralose instead of aspartame. The product line debuted in March and was developed in about four months, Ales said.
“It is available in five flavors today and sells at half the price of similar items (50 cents vs. $1),” Ales said. “A new flavor, Pineapple Orange, was tested in the Culinary and Innovation Center and launches in September.”
In October, Wal-Mart will introduce a line of paleo meals that were tested at the center.
“Our merchants came up with the concept and worked closely with a supplier to come up with flavors, develop the product and test packaging,” Ales said. “Unlike traditional frozen meals, the paleo meal can be pulled out of the box and placed directly in the microwave without puncturing or venting the film. This meets the needs of our customers on paleo diets and provides the convenience of a frozen meal.”
Redfield said the new facility represents Wal-Mart’s mission by “advocating for our customers by creating exciting items, ensuring quality and always delivering low prices.”