Health & Wellness

How We’re Fighting Food Deserts

You may have heard the term “food desert” before, but what does it really mean? Well, it’s sort of what it sounds like — an area, in urban or rural settings where access to affordable and nutritious food is limited. Instead of grocery stores with fresh fruit and vegetables, the landscape is often limited to convenience stores and fast food restaurants.  

People who live in areas without access to affordable, healthy food often suffer from a number of nutrition related health problems including obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. So it’s no surprise that helping close the access gap has been a big part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move!  program designed to help fight childhood obesity and help Americans get healthy.

As the country’s largest retailer of groceries, Walmart has a role to play in helping improve access to affordable healthy food. In July 2012, we joined the First Lady and the Let’s Move! initiative by committing to open 275 to 300 new stores in areas that serve food deserts by 2016. When the U.S. Census showed an increase in areas that fall into the food desert category, we opened 224 stores across the country in areas that serve those food deserts, including states where it’s a big problem like my home state of Texas (27 stores), California (18 stores), and Colorado (12 stores). Of those, 48 were opened in fiscal year 2012, 80 in fiscal year 2013, and 96 in fiscal year 2014.

This is a commitment we take very seriously at Walmart. From the beginning we’ve always said that a customer shouldn’t have to choose between a food that is healthier for them and a food they can afford.  Families should have reasonable access to a store that provides healthy choices and helps that family live better.  I’m proud to say that we are doing our small part to bring better options to families to urban and rural areas across the country.  

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Innovation

This Store is Helping Reimagine the Supercenter

Last year, supercenter #5260 in Rogers, Arkansas, got a facelift. Added into the refreshed look were several new approaches to technologies, services, products and layouts, which are currently being tested with customers. Early reports are positive, but it’s too soon to tell what’s working and what isn’t. What’s clear: Things that seem straightforward could show up in new stores or remodels. Store 5260 is simply the first step toward the supercenter of the future, but it’s critical to informing upcoming tests.

Room to Play: The electronics and entertainment areas have a sleek, modern look that customers say feels very welcoming and on-trend. “One of the things that we noticed early on as people walk by electronics is that they stop and look, and then they get drawn in," said Sherry Curtis-Swenson, the store’s manager.

A New Angle on Fresh: A reorganization (along with improved sight lines and angled aisles) puts berries — a growing category — in the front of the department. Bananas, already a huge draw, are toward the back to help lead customers through. Purple signage in Fresh and throughout the store connects to an increase in organic products.

Car Care, Customer Care: Along with new digital menu boards and signage in automotive, there’s a comfortable customer waiting area — furnished with items from Walmart.com. Customers can watch TV, enjoy a coffee, charge their phones, and see their cars being serviced.

Pickup, Up Front: In-Store Pickup and Walmart Services share space up front at Store 5260. It’s clearly marked so customers can find it and get their orders quickly.

Check Out Your Way: There are multiple options for checkout. Scan & Go supplies a wand so customers can scan items as they’re shopping. Hybrid registers can be self-service or manned by associates, depending on the need. And high-velocity checkouts — where a cashier scans items while the customer moves through the line to pay — are more than three times faster than conventional checkouts.

One-Stop Baby Shop: The new baby department combines it all in one space. There’s even a stroller garage for hands-on tryouts. “Customers love being able to move the strollers around,” Sherry said.

Local Eats: A local food truck operator, Big Rub BBQ, has restaurant space in the store, with lots of glass and natural light — and even seating on an outdoor patio! 

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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Health & Wellness

Losing Weight, But Gaining New Perspective

My struggles with weight started around the time my last child — my son, Drake — was born.

He was premature; he weighed just 3 pounds and 3 ounces when he was born and was in the neonatal ICU for six weeks. Each day, my wife and I shuttled to the hospital, eating nothing but fast food, living in complete fear. It was the most terrifying time in my life, and I emerged from it changed in many ways.

For one, I was a lot heavier.

Before Drake was born, I weighed roughly 225 pounds. I’m 5 feet 9 inches tall, so I wasn’t exactly slim to begin with. In the months after his birth, my weight climbed to more than 265 pounds. While it’s true that I had lots of things to worry about then, I always knew that I needed to make real changes. 

First Steps

When Drake was about a year old, in June 2011, he was taking his first steps; coincidentally, my wife and I were taking some of our own. We started working out on our Xbox; shortly after that, we joined a gym. I began to lose weight doing cardio and strength training, and I started getting in shape — mentally as well as physically. Customers and colleagues alike started noticing and talking to me about my weight loss. It made me feel much closer to them. Their support made the effort easier.

As my wife and I grew healthier, we aimed to eat healthier. That wasn’t easy: We were used to eating whatever we wanted — pizza, burgers, ice cream, soda, you name it. To make a change, we had to clean out our cabinets completely. It was a total pantry makeover.

Now I’m a Guide

About a year after we started our journey to better health, one of my store’s co-managers mentioned the ZP Challenge to me — ZP for “zip” or zero, meaning, you make it what you want it to be — specifically because he knew about my efforts. But he didn’t just ask me to look into the program, which is basically a friendly competition to inspire better wellbeing. He asked if I could set it up in the store and introduce other associates to it. That was a big deal.

That was three years ago, and I’ve participated in the Challenge, a program for Walmart associates, their families and friends, ever since. I even won a prize for my success story — the very one I’m telling now. But to be honest, it wasn’t the biggest gift I received. I’ve also been honored to help more than 30 of my fellow associates with the program.

Paying It Forward

I now weigh about 180 pounds, perfect for my size (at one point I was at 153, but that wasn’t realistic). More than that, my life and my perspective have changed. I have more energy. I’m more outgoing. I enjoy life, and I share that enthusiasm. One of the things I’ve started doing is telling people in my life they’re doing a good job. When you tell people they’re doing awesome, it changes their day, and your own. Even more, it changes your world. Honestly, because of all these changes, I’m a nicer person.

I’m also one of the first 10 official ZP guides, so I’m ready with support and information whenever anyone needs either. I’m paying it forward. The support I’ve gotten in the store and online has been nothing short of tremendous. And I want to let others know they can be tremendous, too. Because you can. Everyone can.

I’m living proof.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates. Read other associates’ stories of encouragement and motivation at ZPChallenge.com.  

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Business

Hello, Nicaragua! Welcoming Walmart to Managua

My team ended 2015 in a big way. After months of hard work, we opened the first Walmart store in Nicaragua, offering our everyday low prices on a wide assortment of 40,000 products – a very significant value proposition for the Nicaraguan market. We know this to be true because people are welcoming us with open arms.

The day we opened, literally hundreds of enthusiastic people attended the grand opening of our supercenter in Managua, ready to save money on everything from clothes, electronics and paint to toys, appliances and groceries. Watching the excitement and knowing that this store is making a difference for these people reminded me once again of our mission to help people live better by simply paying less for the things they need.

This is a $17 million investment in a modern, comfortable store of 5,890 square meters (over 63,000 square feet) that created 150 direct jobs (the associates that will work in the supercenter) and 1,575 estimated indirect jobs (jobs as a result of the supercenter such as cleaning crews and suppliers). And, because we strongly encourage the growth of local businesses, a great majority of our assortment comes from small and medium-sized Nicaraguan suppliers.   

Walmart operates 87 stores in Nicaragua under other formats like Palí (discount), Maxi Palí (warehouse) and La Union (supermarket), but this is the first Walmart-branded location. We are now offering the distinctive standard of service, price and assortment through our iconic Walmart supercenter. And the excitement we’ve seen is definitely our major reward. 

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Dish on Gumbaya: A Foodie Follows a Dream

When I moved from Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C., five years ago, it marked a new beginning for me. I was stepping away from 20 years in the insurance business, into a warmer climate and yearning to return to my culinary roots.

When I was growing up, my family owned a food processing plant. I was running a restaurant up north by the time I was 19. I’ve always been curious about flavors and what’s out there. Whenever I travel, I’m that guy who only eats local cuisine. And when I began digging into my new surroundings, I discovered the history of gumbo in the U.S. – which people naturally associate with Louisiana – can actually be traced back to South Carolina in the 1600s.

The first recipe I developed when I set foot in Myrtle Beach was my own gumbo. There were so many beautiful ingredients down here – fresh shrimp, whitefish, Andouille sausage, okra – and when I dipped my spoon into that first bowl, I had a moment. I thought, “This is it. I’ve really got something here.”

I knew this was a recipe that would make South Carolina proud. My gumbo immediately started winning people over at local farmers markets and festivals. I looked into opportunities to get my product on the market, from selling to local restaurants to partnering with a delivery service in the area. But the day the district manager at our local Walmart gave me 15 minutes of his time – that was the day everything changed.

That was Dec. 17, 2013. When I walked out 45 minutes later, it was with the understanding we had a deal. By May 2015, my Carolina Gumbaya was being sold in the frozen section of 17 Walmart stores in South Carolina. Today, that’s grown to 137 Walmart stores in five states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It really has been an amazing experience, to see so many people embrace this recipe I created in the kitchen of my own home. But when people ask me if it has taken me by surprise, I have to tell them, “Honestly, no.”

Frozen food has come a long way in recent years. Carolina Gumbaya – a name drawn from the words gumbo and jambalaya – isn’t packed with fillers and preservatives. The label doesn’t have words you can’t pronounce. There are 12 whole, wild-caught shrimp in every one-quart container. And the blonde roux I developed, along with my secret spices, are a few of the differentiating factors.

Turn on any food channel or open a food publication and you’re going to hear about the flavor of the South. It’s the South’s time to shine on the culinary stage – so products like mine have an opportunity to spread across the country. Along the way, Walmart’s commitment to domestic manufacturing is opening the door for small entrepreneurs like my business partner, Laura Spencer, and me. Products like Carolina Gumbaya are helping create jobs at growing U.S.-based companies like Duke Food Productions, the company who helps produce our product. These kinds of stories are a win-win for everyone. And we’re just getting started.

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