Walmart Fresh Crew: Tour of Produce Department

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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.

walmart 100 percent guarantee
Walmart backs its produce with a 100% guarantee

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.

Locally grown tomatoes
Locally grown tomatoes

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.

This sweet potato came from a South Jersey farm
This sweet potato came from a South Jersey farm

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.”

Locally grown leeks
Locally grown leeks

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.

Produce is donated to the Flemington Food Pantry
Produce is donated to the Flemington Food Pantry

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.

15 thoughts on “Walmart Fresh Crew: Tour of Produce Department”

  1. I try not to buy produce that has already been bagged, like apples. It’ so disappointing to get home and find bruised or even rotten fruit in the bag. It’s such a waste of money. I like to take my time and choose only the best looking fruit or vegetables. The quality of the produce has really improved at our Walmart, and I enjoy shopping there.

    Reply
    • I agree with you. Oftentimes the bagged produce, like apples or oranges, is cheaper to buy. But you’re right–there is always the chance that you’ll find rotten pieces hidden within that you have to throw out. I have the same problem with bagged potatoes, which often turn to liquid potatoes before I can use them all up–yuck!

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  2. I’ve been trying to eat a lot healthier, more fruits and vegetables than anything else. I’ve found that Walmart carries more varieties than my local grocery store so I tend to only by produce from Walmart now. I love that they have so many varieties of hot peppers. I’m lucky to even be able to buy jalapenos at my local grocery store.

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  3. When buying produce, buy as much organic as you can. Organic does contain more nutrients in them than non-organic, and do not contain chemical residues from chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Buy the freshest you can and consume quickly.

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  4. This is a really important initiative on Walmart’s part. Fresh produce is so important for good nutrition (to manage weight, to prevent cancer, to achieve optimal health) yet many lower income families struggle to afford it. By raising the quality and availability of quality fresh produce at its stores, Walmart may actually positively affect the health of its patrons. I also applaud the commitment to stocking local produce wherever possible!

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  5. buy organic and make sure its not GMO. apples at the store are waxy and the ones at farmers market are not makes you wonder huh.

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  6. My parents always taught me to buy local. It tastes the best, it is better for the environment, it financially supports the local economy. Thrilled that Walmart is getting local sourcing, because not only do we get fresh, but we get a great a good price.

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  7. The Walmart near us recently changed over to a Super Walmart with full grocery. I have been pleasantly surprised at how nice their produce is and the large selection they have available. I have found the quality and prices excellent. I have always followed those same rules for selecting bananas, mangoes and cantaloupe. I am also so happy when I see local produce in any store in which I shop!!

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    • Have you been able to spot the locally grown signs on the shelves at Walmart? I had to look for them at first, but now they jump out at me!

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  8. I only buy firm peaches. If they’re even a little squishy, they will go bad very quickly. I like the tip about bananas. When I go to the store with my kids, they always want to grab the yellow bananas but I always have to explain to them how they need to be a little green so that they’ll last a few days.

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    • I’m glad you like the tip about bananas. The guys at Walmart did tell me that they have customers from time to time asking about over-ripe bananas, because they want to use them to make banana bread!

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  9. I love everything about this marketing concept, from supporting local farmers, to donating the produce when it is pulled from the shelves. It’s so important to keep the shortest distance between the source of your food and your kitchen.

    Best,
    Alice

    Reply
  10. My mom taught me to only buy unbruised produce, and keep all the produce away from any meat products in the cart and grocery bags to avoid cross-contamination.

    Reply

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