Wal-Mart fresh produce section
Wal-Mart is planning to overhaul the look and layout of its stores fresh departments.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Fresh is in focus at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., which is changing how it sources, stocks and sells produce in its stores in the United States.

Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart
Bratspies, c.m.o. of Wal-Mart U.S.

“We’re looking at how we source product, where we source it from globally, how we change seasons more effectively all the way to fork,” said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer of Wal-Mart U.S., at the Raymond James Institutional Investors Conference in Orlando on March 8. “It's not just about having fresh product in our store; it needs to be fresh when you take it home. When you experience it two or three days later out of your refrigerator, it needs to still be fresh product. How do we extend that over time, and that’s ultimately our focus.”

Presentation is also part of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart’s strategic priority. In the stores, the retailer is overhauling the look and layout of its fresh departments.

“The wet wall in our produce area is different; it’s been flipped,” Mr. Bratspies said. “We’re going to lead off with fresh bulk vegetables that set a fresher tone right on actionality. We’ve expanded space for cut fruit, which is a huge growth business for us. We’ve changed our assortment mix between bagged and bulk product, all to make sure the assortment is better for the customer…

“We’re rolling out a project that we call ‘fresh angle roll-out,’ and what that is is, when you walk into a produce department, we’re reorienting all the fixturing in there and lowering the profile. So you’re going to be able to come in, you’re going to have more space, you’re going to have more sightlines, able to see the wet wall, see the deli, easier to shop. It’s going to change dramatically the look and feel of our produce department.”

Walmart fresh cut fruit
Wal-Mart is expanding space for cut fruit, which Mr. Bratspies said is a huge growth business for the retailer.

Wal-Mart also is investing in improved in-store execution, Mr. Bratspies said.

“We’ve made a lot of investment in wages, as you all know about, adding department managers back,” Mr. Bratspies said. “We’re also adding in what we call a fresh operations manager at the market level to have an expert in every single market to teach, train and build capabilities in the stores on an ongoing basis.”

Wal-Mart has implemented the changes in 180 stores with plans to roll out to about 3,300 stores by the end of the year. The company already has seen positive results in this area, with produce market share up 44 basis points and organic market share up 80 basis points in the last 52 weeks, Mr. Bratspies said.

“We expect these investments to pay off in the short term and long term, and we’re pretty confident about what we’re doing,” he said. “And the customer perception improvement that we’re seeing across the department is the best measure to tell us that we’re working on the right things.”

Freshness sets the tone for the shopper’s experience at Wal-Mart, Mr. Bratspies said.

“We know when we get fresh right, the entire box benefits from that business as we go forward.”