Wal-Mart produce section
Wal-Mart's efforts in its fresh produce section are achieving positive results.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Fresh has been a focus for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in recent months, and efforts are beginning to bear fruit, said Greg Foran, president and CEO of Wal-Mart US.

Greg Foran, Wal-Mart US
Greg Foran, president and CEO of Wal-Mart US.

“We’re seeing it with some better traffic, comps, bigger basket sizes, and it’s happening quite simply because customers are seeing better quality,” Foran said during the company’s annual meeting for the investment community on Oct. 6. “Overall fresh impression is a measure based on customer surveys… and we have customers that rate our fresh department, and we use that to see how we stack up to our competitors. So as a data point, we’ve seen about a 700 base improvement (from a year ago). It’s a pretty big shift.”

Across the produce, bakery, meat and deli departments, Wal-Mart has focused on improving assortment and presentation.

“We have more to do, though, and our fresh team is focused on getting more of the items customers want and laying them out really well,” Foran said.

Wal-Mart new produce section
Wal-Mart has redesigned the produce sections in 3,100 stores.

As part of these efforts, Wal-Mart has simplified the bakery section by reducing the amount of complexity and number of stock-keeping units.

But the big move has been in the produce section, which over the past few months the company has redesigned in 3,100 of its stores.

“Project Dangle is what we’ve called it,” Foran said. “I’m pleased with how that’s actually rolled itself out. And we’re working on flow so that we have less waste. And at the end of the day, that’s giving better shelf life to customers when they get home. We’re seeing that because we’re seeing that the inventory in fruit and veg has come down a day and a half versus a year ago. That’s good.

“And we’ve expanded our footprint with more sourcing hubs, both locally and in the US, and now working… internationally on how we can create even better leverage there.”

Wal-Mart milk plant
Wal-Mart's new milk plant is expected to be operational by next summer.

Another aspect of Wal-Mart’s fresh foods strategy is the opening of a new milk plant in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is expected to be operational by next summer. Of the milk plant, Foran said, “It’s going to ensure freshness, and… it’s going to deliver much better value. It’s not ready yet, but it’s under way.”

The company also has invested in hiring and training fresh operations managers, Foran said.

“A lot of these folks have joined us from outside the business, and, I can tell you, they come from very impressive backgrounds in the industry,” he said. “We have 150 of them now on the ground. We’re being sensible about how we roll them out. But their job is to work in the store, right alongside the associates, teaching and training.”