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.

5 Comments

Business

Why Smarter Inventory Means Better Customer Service

When you’re getting ready to head to Walmart, you expect everything on your list will be ready and waiting on our shelves.

With millions of items for sale, ensuring that happens – for everything, every time – is quite a complex process behind the scenes.

Managing back room inventory – products that are stored in back rooms for days, sometimes weeks, before they reach shelves – can be a challenge. It requires constant monitoring, and can sometimes take associates away from the sales floor where they would otherwise be helping customers. So recently we’ve been experimenting with new and better ways to improve the process for everyone.

Top Stock is one of these new systems that we’re testing in stores. With it, we’ve moved a great deal of our back stock inventory to somewhere else very simple: the top shelves on our sales floor. By keeping additional merchandise closer to where it’s sold, we can maintain fuller shelves while keeping a better in-the-moment read on inventory.

I spent the first 12 years of my three decades with Walmart in replenishment and supply chain roles, so I understand the significance firsthand of how this makes storage and stocking so much easier. But there’s also quite a bit more that directly benefits customers:

  • All the extra space we’re opening up in our back rooms is making it easier for us to integrate services like online grocery pickup. While the demand for grocery pickup is obvious, finding adequate space within our existing stores had sometimes been a challenge.
  • Need something you don’t immediately see on the shelf? Waiting for an associate to check our back room during peak holiday shopping periods could soon be a thing of the past. By improving our inventory management processes, we’re bringing the products and services that customers need one step closer. In fact, the implementation of Top Stock has helped reduce our rental of temporary inventory trailers to a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.
  • Our improvements in inventory management are getting more associates out of the back room and onto the sales floor, where they can help and interact with customers.
  • Perhaps best of all, our associates can use open back room space for career-building education. When one store in Morrisville, North Carolina, implemented Top Stock inventory management, they reduced back room inventory by 75% in two months, allowing enough new space to open an Academy for associate training.

What’s worked for our business in the past isn’t always what’s best for today’s shopper. When we commit to coming up with unexpected ways to do the small things better, we not only become smarter and more efficient, but create a big win for our customers at the same time.

5 Comments

Innovation

Uncovering How We’ll Shop in the Future

As new technology brings new possibilities, there’s been an explosion of ways to shop – smartphone apps, online grocery shopping and Scan & Go for easier checkout, to name just a few. To serve customers better, we need to stay ahead of the research that helps form the ideas that will continue to revolutionize how we shop.

I’m part of a small team that’s delving deep into research to improve the shopping experience for everyone. I’m a data scientist for Sam’s Club Technology, and I like to compare what we do to building a car: You have to start with the engine.

My day-to-day work is all about staying on top of new methods to build that engine. I look at ways we can incorporate emerging research in object recognition, detection and segmentation – technology that can make things like our Scan & Go app even smarter. For instance, instead of scanning a bar code, the app will be able to recognize products using photos taken by your phone’s camera.

Because this is such a fast-moving field, the research I work with is in its earliest stages. I might work with one algorithm today, and a couple months from now use a completely new model that’s even better than what we had before.

Tech is constantly evolving, which makes innovation essential for retailers. We have to continually adapt our business to our shoppers’ lifestyles. There’s a lot of coding, engineering and algorithm testing that goes into building something that works better than what people are used to. It’s challenging, but that’s why I’m lucky to work with such talented people.

Until I joined the team last year, I never realized the strong sense of pride that associates in the Walmart and Sam’s Club family have in what our business does. After studying at Yale, I worked in financial engineering in New York – I didn’t expect to find an opportunity to do such innovative work in Bentonville, Arkansas.

I’ve found that in the corporate world, it’s rare for a business to invest in cutting-edge research. But, from the start, Walmart has chosen to invent some of our own solutions instead of waiting for someone else to come up with them. In this new age of tech, we’re still evolving and inventing better ways to get from Point A to Point C.

5 Comments

Innovation

5 Ways Walmart Uses Big Data to Help Customers

In many industries, big data provides a way for companies to gain a better understanding of their customers and make better business decisions.

Walmart relies on big data to get a real-time view of the workflow in the pharmacy, distribution centers and throughout our stores and e-commerce.

Check out the infographic below to see how Walmart uses big data to make the company’s operations more efficient and improve the lives of customers.

Whether it’s analyzing the transportation route for a supply chain or using data to optimize pricing, big data analytics will continue to be a key way for Walmart to enhance the customer experience.

5 Comments

Business

Millennials Make Waves in This Episode of ‘Outside the Box’

Millennials are making waves.

They are now leaders of industry, business, media and retail. They are shaping the way we get information and goods. They can also be a bit controversial.

But whatever you think of them, you definitely can’t ignore them -- especially millennials as successful as Mic.com co-founder Chris Altchek and Natasha Case, co-founder of ice cream company Coolhaus. In Episode 4 of our podcast, Outside the Box, we sat down with them both to discuss their respective businesses, millennials and the stereotypes of that generation.

Chris, after years of taking wildly different political jobs, realized he was really passionate about finding solutions to people’s problems. So he decided to become a journalist – a job where he could come in without bias and help share the truth. Today, Chris manages a successful news site that reaches 60 million people – a lot of them millennials – a month, in an environment where he says trust in the news is at an all-time low.

Natasha, whose goal was to make architecture cool and accessible, found that mixing food and architecture did the trick. Starting with a broken-down food truck at Coachella, her business Coolhaus now sells architecture-themed ice cream at over 6,000 locations across the U.S.

As with any stereotype, it’s dangerous to lump everyone into one bucket. So what do Chris and Natasha think about the labels some have put upon their generation? Check out the episode to hear for yourself.

Listen to previous episodes and subscribe, and tell us what you think in the comments below.

5 Comments