Innovation

Photo Tour: Walmart’s Culinary & Innovation Center

In Bentonville, Arkansas, there’s a building where delicious things are happening. It’s the Culinary & Innovation Center — just opened in June — where Walmart’s private brands team is developing new items, testing them to ensure they meet customer needs, and showing that the same results can be easily achieved in stores and in homes, all in one facility.

Here's an inside look at how it all works.

Theater-Style Kitchen: Outfitted with a variety of equipment and a central prep area surrounded by room for an audience, this kitchen is used to experiment with different recipes and demonstrate cooking techniques — in person or in videos — to associates who will create the dishes back at their store.

Kitchenettes: These six meeting spaces are perfect for meetings with suppliers to evaluate new products. Each kitchenette is equipped with ovens and microwaves, with ample space to prepare and taste a large selection of products at once.

By working with suppliers firsthand, we can pinpoint what product elements need improvement. Our merchants can then work out a strategy to address the issues and make sure the products are still delivered at the best price and value.

Sensory Lab: This is where tastings occur. In a kitchen, the center’s staff load prepared items into a revolving chamber. On the other side, tasters open the chamber to get access to the item and input their impressions on a computer. This helps ensure the tests are done blind, and kitchen staff can keep track of what tasters have tried.

Tests can happen quickly and don’t always focus on taste alone. If complaints come in from store associates about a particular product, staff can pick up samples in the morning and have a tasting by the afternoon to address any problems and begin working on a solution. For example, after hearing that a recent spice packet was tough to open, staff brought samples to the lab for testing. The problem (too much glue) was identified quickly and fixed in the first production run.

Meet the Tasters: Tasters are usually Walmart home office associates who volunteer. They’re screened based on tastes and preferences.

And the Tasting Monitors: Tastings are carefully monitored by associates like Angela Hebert, senior sensory manager. “I encourage tasters to give as much information as they can, even if it sounds crazy,” Angela said.

Innovation Room: This kitchenette is for testing and demonstrating new products that Walmart’s product experts believe will meet customer needs based on marketplace trends. Here they test samples and deliver feedback to suppliers on how to make the products as delicious as possible, all while keeping costs low.

Consumables Lab: This area tests non-food items: everything from Great Value cleaners to Equate items, Pure Balance pet food and Parent's Choice baby products. Packaging and presentation are evaluated, and to keep costs down, cleaning products that are tested in this room – like detergents – are used on the center’s linens.

Results in Stores: Keep an eye out for Marketside Applewood Bacon Seasoned Loin Filet. Every element of it, from its flavor to its packaging, was developed by the team at the Culinary & Innovation Center—and associates helped find the perfect flavor.

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Walmart World, the magazine for Walmart associates.

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Business

Found: The Story Behind Our New Natural Beauty Routine

If you’ve ever tried shopping for naturally-inspired beauty products, you know the struggle.

They can be expensive. They’re sometimes not as effective. Makeup colors can be limited, and guess what? That means matching skin tones is a challenge.

As a buyer for cosmetics at Walmart, I’d begun noticing an industry trend, both from our customers’ feedback and focus groups: People care more than ever about the ingredients in the products they’re using. But this was also personal. I’m passionate about using natural ingredients in my home, and I was having trouble finding beauty products that looked good, felt good, and wouldn’t break the bank.

That was last year. Little did I know that a solution was soon to be found.

My team started looking into what it would take to develop naturally-inspired skincare and cosmetics, and that’s when we discovered Hatchbeauty, a company specializing in everything from the development to the marketing of innovative beauty products. They were eager to marry their beauty expertise with our retail expertise to create something truly unique and different – Found, a new line of naturally-inspired beauty products exclusive to Walmart.

Every item within Found highlights a “miracle” ingredient used in ancient beauty rituals. For instance, one of my favorite products, the illuminating drops, uses passionfruit oil to lock in moisture and nourish your skin. We’ve brought these ingredients to life to give customers an alternative featuring natural ingredients that can deliver the same results as traditional, high-end beauty products.

Helping develop Found has been one of the most meaningful achievements in my career, because it has been an intersection where my personal passion and my professional purpose collide. Walmart is committed to selling more products that benefit people and the planet. Found’s 130-product line is never tested on animals, and there’s even a Not Found list featuring what you won’t find in the products, like parabens and phthalates. Every product is 90-99% natural, and the percent of natural ingredients is front and center on every product.

Working with Tracy Holland, founder and CEO, Diana Madrid, COO, and Ben Bennet CCO, was a phenomenal experience, but I was impressed with the engagement from everyone on their team. From the owners to the brand managers to the chemists and product developers, everyone encouraged diversity of thought and inclusion, which made it possible for the customer to be the focus of our development process. I can’t count the number of times we changed direction on formulas, shade range or packaging based on customer feedback. For instance, we received customer feedback that skincare can be a confusing category to shop, so we broke down every item into one of three steps: cleanse, treat and hydrate. Found demystifies the process and helps customers focus on key items to build their regimens.

When I gave my first presentation to our leadership team, I asked them how my makeup looked, and they couldn’t believe everything I was wearing was from our naturally-inspired line. It’s one thing to develop these products – but it’s another thing entirely to actually wear the products and love them! Found has truly been a chance for me to help our customers save money and live better.

You can find Found products at select Walmart locations, Walmart.com and coming soon to Jet.com.

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Innovation

Why the Future Needs More Girls Who Code

Science and math were subjects that were encouraged and appreciated in Singapore where I grew up.

But after moving to the U.S., I saw a real difference in the support of young women interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In Singapore, there was heavy emphasis on science and math – for everyone. It gave me a strong foundation for furthering my education in technology. When I arrived in the U.S. for college, I discovered computer science and ended up graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s in computer science from MIT and Stanford respectively. I’ve spent 25 years in the field of technology and can’t imagine doing anything else.

My daughter, Juliette, grew up in the U.S., and her experience was more challenging. She didn’t have the same encouragement and support to pursue and excel in STEM from her peers and teachers that I had experienced. Like many young girls, she was outnumbered in classes but luckily, she had enough gumption and mentorship to pursue an engineering degree.

Fiona Tan and her daughter, Juliette, a sophomore engineering student at Harvey Mudd College.

My experience with Juliette convinced me of the importance of reaching out to young girls, to provide them with role models to learn from and a safe environment to explore STEM, coding, and to hopefully inspire them to pursue a higher degree, and eventually a career in technology.

Today, women are far underrepresented in this growing field. In fact, a recent study by Accenture shows that the gender gap in computing has actually worsened since the 1980s.

While women comprised 37% of computer science graduates in 1984, only 18% pursue the field today. Increasing the number of women in technology is critical for a few reasons:

  • By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs available in computing related fields.
  • U.S. graduates are on track to fill 29% of those jobs. Women are on track to fill just 3%.
  • Women bring a diverse mindset to computer science, which is necessary for continued innovation.

Becky Schmitt, right, Walmart's senior vice president of Global Human Resources, hosts a conversation with Reshma Saujani, chief executive officer of Girls Who Code.

As a company that employs technologists in a variety of disciplines, Walmart recognizes that not only is this important for business, it’s important for society. However, to ensure a strong pipeline of talent – and inspire young girls to pursue this exciting field – we need to do more.

Today, Walmart announced a $250,000 contribution to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology by building the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States. Walmart’s contribution will help Girls Who Code achieve their goal of growing from 1,000 clubs to 3,600 in all 50 states, reaching 50,000 girls across the U.S. by the end of the 2018 school year.

In addition to providing funding, Walmart will also be an active participant at many of these clubs, through associate volunteering and hosting student field trips to our technology offices.

We recently had the privilege of introducing nearly 300 middle school-aged girls to Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. The girls in attendance learned about programs and opportunities for a career in technology. Our desire is that by advocating on behalf of Girls Who Code, we’ll be able to ignite more clubs in our communities.

We’re excited about the opportunity to inspire young girls to study STEM and close the gender gap. Here’s how you can get involved:

Fiona Tan is the Senior Vice President of Customer Technology at Walmart Labs, the technology division innovating new solutions for Walmart Stores and Walmart eCommerce. Fiona has spent the last 25 years in the field of technology having worked at Ariba, TIBCO Software and Oracle, respectively.

Looking for jobs in STEM? Check out our careers site to see what positions are currently available.

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Business

Walmart's Secret Advantage to Serving You This Holiday Season

The holiday season is a busy time of year at Walmart.

From October through December, hundreds of millions of Americans will visit more than 5,000 Walmart locations to shop for gifts, grab last-minute items for holiday meals and take advantage of special deals that come but once a year.

Now, more than ever, Walmart and its associates will be ready for them.

Based on the success of a similar effort in 2016, the company announced it will be offering extra hours available this time of year to our current associates, rather than hiring thousands of seasonal workers.

“Our associates make the holidays come to life in our stores, and we are thankful for everything they do,” said Judith McKenna, Chief Operating Officer. “As we head into our busiest time of the year, we know associates are ready to deliver for our customers and help give them a memorable and affordable Christmas.”

These extra hours will help staff traditional roles like cashier and stocker, as well as newly created, technology-empowered positions in Walmart’s growing online pickup department.

Here are three big reasons why the company is investing in its people for Holiday 2017:

  1. The way customers shop is rapidly changing. Walmart expects new services like Online Grocery Pickup to take off with the holiday cooking crowd, making the company’s specially trained personal shoppers an even more indispensable part of the team.
  2. The company’s Holiday Helpers program was a huge success last year, and in 2017 Walmart is increasing the number of Helpers across its fleet of stores. These associates are dedicated to helping customers get through stores faster by finding the shortest checkout line and opening registers as needed. They’ll even run to grab items customers may have forgotten, so they don’t lose their place.
  3. Walmart has increased its focus on service through new training, tools and technology. Thousands of associates have completed the company’s Pathways and Academy programs, which prepares them to more effectively serve customers during this busy season.

“The holidays are a special time of year for our customers and associates,” McKenna said. “This is what working in retail is all about, and we know our people have the passion to do even more this year.”

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Business

One Year Ago, We Welcomed Jet … and the Winners are Our Customers

When the Jet.com deal closed one year ago, many people asked, “Why Jet.com?”

At the time, we’d strengthened our e-commerce capabilities and were looking for the right partner to accelerate our efforts. So while it was a logical question to ask, the answer was really quite simple: Jet was the right partner at the right time. Both Walmart and Jet have a deep commitment to serving customers, and saving them money and time. By coming together, we could do all these things, better.

That’s exactly what we’re doing. In August, we partnered with Google for voice shopping. Earlier in the year, we launched Easy Reorder, a feature in our mobile app that helps customers easily access a list of items they purchase most frequently. We also launched free two-day shipping on millions of items – without a membership fee. And we’ve steadily expanded our merchandise assortment. This time last year, we had just reached 15 million items available on Walmart.com and today that number is 67 million items and rising.

We’ve welcomed other innovative online retailers to the Walmart family, including Bonobos, Hayneedle, Modcloth, Moosejaw and Shoes.com. Each of these acquisitions has helped strengthen our expertise in key product categories, provide an expanded assortment and a way to reach new customers. We’re able to provide these new companies the benefit of Walmart’s scale to lower their operating costs, which allows each to invest in the customer experience and grow the business.

We’re also seeing the power of our stores and e-commerce coming together to serve customers. We’re removing friction from our shopping experience – focused on making it fast, easy and fun for customers. Walmart customers now receive a discount for store pickup rather than home delivery, which we can offer by using our vast supply chain and store network to create efficiencies. With stores located within 10 miles of nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population, it’s convenient for many of our customers, and saves them money.

In addition to 1,000 grocery pickup locations in the U.S., we’re testing associate delivery of Walmart.com orders in a few stores. By the end of the year, we’ll have approximately 100 automated pickup towers in stores across the country, where customers can pick up their orders within a matter of minutes. And we’re excited about the growth we’re seeing across our e-commerce portfolio. One important metric, Gross Merchandise Value, grew 69 percent in the first quarter this year, and was just as robust the next quarter at 67 percent. That’s proof customers are responding.

Marc Lore, who founded Jet, and now leads our U.S. e-commerce efforts, has proven to be the digital embodiment of Walmart. He has a fanatical focus on serving customers and creating the next generation of everyday low prices. It’s energizing how he and Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., and their teams continue to partner closely to delight customers in new ways across our apps, sites and stores.

I’m excited about how far we’ve come together, and even more excited about what’s ahead. Here’s to another great year of finding more ways to save our customers time and money, and delivering an easy and enjoyable shopping experience.

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