A report in The New York Times suggests Walmart Stores Inc. (Bentonville, Ark.) is having trouble keeping produce fresh inside its grocery departments.
According to the Times, the recession and slowdown of the last four years forced Walmart to cut its workforce and now doesn’t have enough workers to stock its shelves properly. The Times said its sources were “some employees and industry analysts.”
The article also referred to notes of a meeting last month of top Walmart managers showing the company grappling with low customer confidence in its produce and poor quality. “Lose Trust,” reads one note, “Don’t have items they are looking for — can’t find it.”
Jack Sinclair, evp of food for Walmart U.S., told the Times that the company is addressing the grocery concerns with measures like a new inventory system and signs that will help employees figure out what is fresh and what is not. A company spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan, said Walmart felt its stores were fully staffed.
But in fact, said the Times, Walmart now has 281 employees per store at its U.S. stores and Sam’s Club locations.. At the start of 2007, it averaged 338 employees per store.
One of the problems, according to Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor at the grocery industry publication The Shelby Report, stemmed from Walmart’s attempts to make their stores less cluttered by reducing SKUs. She said customers didn’t like the change and Walmart added merchandise back. But, with declining sales, it didn’t add back employees.
Walmart has become the largest grocery retailer in the U.S. Grocery made up 55 percent of its U.S. sales in 2012.
The Times reports that the company has introduced an inventory management system for produce departments that will track how many days an item has been in transit, how much shelf life remains and what orders the company should place to meet demand.
Sinclair said the stores would also change, from putting out produce in huge amounts to displaying small quantities and “showing customers that they’re bringing fresh produce out all the time.”
“In terms of the produce issue, our availability challenges are the same as everyone else’s challenges across the marketplace,” he said.