Last month the folks at Walmart reached out to me to see if I would be interested in joining their fresh crew–a group of bloggers that the store was partnering with to get the word out about Walmart’s commitment to provide the highest quality, freshest produce at an affordable price. Since I’d already written about the 100 percent money back guarantee–and genuinely thought it was a great idea–I agreed. There is also a benefit for Suddenly Frugal readers with a giveaway, which I’ll explain later.
My first assignment was to tour my local Walmart, which for me was in Flemington, New Jersey. Last week I met with three members of the Flemington team–store manager David Roche, assistant manager of fresh and consumables Steve Milne, and produce department manager Matt Kent. They walked me through how Walmart goes about choosing the produce it stocks and how the store remains committed to providing high-quality produce that won’t disappoint its customers.
The first thing I noticed was how prominently Walmart has displayed its 100 percent guarantee promise. As I’d written about in my original post on the money-back guarantee–and then the store managers confirmed for me on the day of my visit–if you have any questions about the quality of the produce you’ve purchased, just bring the receipt back to the customer service desk, and they’ll refund your money.
Not surprisingly Walmart works hard not to disappoint you when you shop for produce at the store, and that’s why multiple times throughout the day, produce employees sweep through the area, looking for produce that isn’t up to snuff. In fact, all employees in the “fresh and consumable” department are constantly trained and retrained to know the difference between a ripe tomato and a rotten tomato. Even a tomato that is questionable will be pulled from the shelves. But don’t worry–the store doesn’t throw away perfectly good produce that just might not be pretty to look at anymore. (More about that later.)
This constant training occurs via an online portal that employees can access right in the store. And as the seasons change–and therefore the produce changes–they get a refresher on what to look for in that season’s produce, Matt Kent explains. Employees are also expected to know how to use produce in a recipe or a meal–something that online portal teaches them.
Three things I learned during my tour about choosing fresh produce:
- Scarring on a cantaloupe doesn’t necessarily mean it has gone bad.
- With mangoes you can’t determine their freshness based on color. It’s more about the feel.
- It’s better to buy bananas when they are still a little green so they can ripen at home. Buy them yellow and they can get to overripe overnight.
Speaking of overnight the store never stocks produce during the overnight hours. While during the day three to four associates continue to stock and freshen produce, “we don’t want fresh produce to sit for 12 hours without customers,” explains David Roche. “But by 10 a.m., the shelves should be full and fresh.”
In addition to keeping produce fresh, the staff works to stock the kinds of produce that customers want. Many shoppers like to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables, and the store highlights when there is produce for sale that was purchased nearby. (Walmart defines locally as within a day’s drive.) On my visit I saw zucchini, broccoli, sweet potatoes, leeks, tomatoes and more–mostly from New Jersey but some from central Pennsylvania.
Also, when customers ask for a certain kind of produce that the store doesn’t currently carry, folks like Steve Milne and Matt Kent will dive into the store’s stocking database and see what they can do to get the requested item in. “We didn’t carry broccoli rabe or Swiss chard,” Steve Milne told me. But since so many customers were asking about those items, “we’ll be getting those in in about three weeks.”
Finally, as far as all that produce that gets pulled from the shelf if it doesn’t look quite right? Well, Walmart donates it to the Fleminington Food Pantry, which happens to be located right across the parking lot from the store. Donations are made Mondays through Thursdays and every other Saturday. In addition to produce, it also donates cereal, dry goods, baked goods and even meat.
Now about the giveaway. Walmart has provided me with $50 Walmart gift cards to give away to two lucky Suddenly Frugal readers. I will be choosing winners based on the best comments you post about what you’ve learned about choosing fresh produce–be it at Walmart or another location. The giveaway will occur on or about August 30th, so don’t delay in posting comments.
Note: while Walmart had provided me with gift cards, the thoughts and tips I’ve shared in this post are entirely my own.