The Science of Sampling at Sam’s Club

Food samples have long been part of the fun of strolling through a warehouse club. But did you know that at Sam’s Club, each of those items goes through an extensive taste test before they ever hit the demo booth?

Behind the scenes, there’s a group whose job is to ensure that every food product on Sam’s Club shelves is as close to perfect as possible. And they’ve got some help: nearly every associate who works at the Sam’s Club corporate office.

Thirty-six products per week are put through a taste panel where a team of food scientists receives feedback on flavor, texture, appearance and more. It happens at the Sam’s Club Sensory Lab, a test kitchen with sampling booths where associates are invited each day to come try items that are new, in development or in need of tweaking.

The team – Angela Hebert, Claire Aucella and Emily Luciano – then gives the results to Sam’s Club’s merchants and suppliers, who use the data to inform their work.

In July, the group hit a milestone: 10,000 items tested since the panels began in 2008. It’s quite a landmark for Angela, a senior product development manager who started the process to help solve a debate over a new item: roast beef deli meat. A steak-like piece of beef was being proposed for slicing, but Angela told the merchant team it was too fatty. Fat isn’t an attribute that consumers want in a sandwich meat, she explained, and to get her point across, she suggested testing the proposed product against the leading deli meat. The leading deli meat won, showing that consumer data was helpful for settling these types of decisions.

“Say you’re in bakery, and you have a buyer who hates cheesecake, but he or she still has to buy that,” Angela said. “If you’ve got lots of companies coming to you, saying, ‘I’ve got the best cheesecake in the world!’ it makes it difficult to pick one for our members. Let’s allow the consumer to choose.”

The process also helps guide the creation of new items, allowing the team to refine each detail before putting something on the shelf. When developing a new frozen pepperoni pizza, for example, the team researched other leading brands in a comprehensive way: They weighed them, picked off all the pepperonis, weighed those separately, washed the cheese, measured how much was on the pizza, and created percentages for all those data points. They also took a look at the packaging. Was it resealable? How big was the cardboard circle supporting it?

“Food or cooking is always the center of any home,” Angela said. “If you ever cook a meal, the one thing you look forward to is knowing, did they like it? Walking through the club, seeing an item and knowing that’s my formula – that’s a cool feeling. That’s why we look at every little aspect to ensure it’s perfect for our members. They are paying for their memberships, and they should get something in return.”

Some days that means tasting steak and lobster ravioli; other days it means sampling dried prunes. No matter what’s on the panel menu for the day, associates who frequently participate say it’s a perk. With two panels of four items each happening every day but Friday, those who get creative could almost make a whole meal of the experience.

Joe Calvin, who works in Sam’s Club finance, says he is a “frequent flier” who participates in at least one sampling every day. “That’s what I’m here for. The company needs me,” he joked after submitting his questionnaires.  “I would even come on the weekends if I could.” 

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Meet Waymo, Your New Self-Driving Grocery Chauffeur

Think back 10 years ago when shopping online for your groceries seemed like something only the Jetsons did. Today, it’s everywhere. Walmart is leading the way with more than 1,500 locations with hundreds more to come just this year.

Now, think about self-driving cars. They still seem really far off to me … but they aren’t. They’re on roads today, without drivers.

We’re always thinking of ways we can serve our customers now and into the future. And we’re looking at different technology and capabilities that keep customers loving the time-saving, wallet-saving service that is Online Grocery for years to come. So, enter a small pilot project we’re running with Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project.

Waymo is a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around – without the need for anyone in the driver’s seat. They’ve safely self-driven over 8 million miles on roads across 25 U.S. cities already. We’re working with them on an online grocery pilot project – limited to a group within Waymo’s 400 daily users known as "early riders"– that will run out of one Walmart store in Chandler, Arizona.

Those in the pilot simply place an Online Grocery Pickup order at Our personal shoppers get to work meticulously picking customers’ orders based on their pickup times. Waymo does the rest. They transport customers to and from pickup, and all the while, those customers can text, nap, work... you name it.

The purpose of all of this: to learn. While giving customers a unique experience with amazing technology, we’re learning how we can make Walmart Online Grocery Pickup even more convenient. Waymo’s experience, industry leading technology and mission on safety is helping us enter this space in the right way.

We’re excited to see what this pilot and the future hold.



Meet the Mother-Daughter Team Behind the Season’s Happiest Planner

There’s something about fall that feels like a second New Year. With back-to-school season in full swing, we’re all gearing up with new schedules and new goals to carry us through December.

Most of the time, those new goals are a clear signal that it’s time to get organized – and maybe even a little inspired. That’s something mother-daughter duo Terri Gick and Stephanie Fleming have been doing professionally for almost 20 years in their hometown of Fountain Valley, California.

When Terri and Stephanie first launched their brand of scrapbooking accessories, Me & My Big Ideas, it was just a small operation carried out of Stephanie’s own garage.

“At the start, we were just looking to start something new,” Stephanie said. “My mom was in the craft industry for 25 years and had just sold her company, and we both wanted to do something creative and to start a business. We saw that scrapbooking was on the rise and there was a need for a product – fun, decorative stickers – that just wasn’t out there.”

Over the last 20 years, the business has grown from a small, out-of-home venture to a full business operation in a 60,000-square-foot facility. After hiring a designer to develop their first 12 sticker designs, Terri and Stephanie quickly realized the importance of investing in their niche community of women with a dual passion for organization and inspiration, and decided to expand their team.

“Something we’ve done really well – as neither of us is an actual artist – is build an amazing team of designers,” Terri said. “It’s helped us forecast what the contemporary creative woman is doing, and ways in which we’re able to participate in her journey. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there a missing piece in the market we could fill to help that person live creatively?’”

The two have since expanded their product line to include The Happy Planner, a product that’s on our shelves now and through the fall that’s chock-full of customizable calendars to get you organized according to your goals and positive mantras to keep you going when your days get full.

“It’s a product that combines a love for creativity with a need for organization,” Stephanie said. “Our customer base is about 98% female, and as female entrepreneurs, we’ve found that we have the ability to forge an instant connection with them. It’s a real blessing.”

For Stephanie, that engagement with passionate customers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of building her business. She’s become personally invested in the growing community of creative women looking for engaging ways to organize their lives, even speaking to a convention of 1,300 women looking to connect.

“Through our business, we haven’t stopped at making a product or even just a brand – we’re able to become a part of the culture and connect with some really amazing women with similar interests. And that’s really special.”

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Video: How This Special Olympian Found Her Power

Elizabeth "Liz" Hubert, 22, is a seasoned competitor.

She got into powerlifting about eight years ago. Since then, she’s competed at state, national and world events with the Special Olympics. Most recently, she represented Oklahoma at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games held July 1-6 in Seattle.

When Liz isn’t training, she works in the bakery at the Catoosa, Oklahoma, supercenter. She was one of at least 14 associates who participated in the games this year. Her fellow Walmart Special Olympians ranged in age from 21 to 51 and competed in a variety of events, including softball, bowling, shot put and running.

Liz competed for four golds this year in deadlift, squat, bench press and overall combined. It was a weighty goal – she can lift more than 200 pounds in the deadlift alone.

Watch below to follow Liz on her 2018 Special Olympics journey.

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More Than a Store: The Tech Bringing You Even More Items

I can’t count how many times I’ve started to shop on my phone or in an app, then moved over to my laptop so I could see everything better.

Shopping on a phone is super convenient, but sometimes that small screen doesn’t give me the in-depth detail I need for certain types of purchases.

Turns out, a lot of customers do that, too. “Our electronics department associates noticed that customers were using store display laptops and tablets to purchase from,” Nicole Clendeninn, a senior project manager of merchant technology at Walmart Labs, recalled. Just like me, they wanted to use something bigger than a phone screen to shop. Others used the store displays because they didn’t have a smart device with them. From these simple observations, came an even simpler idea: in-store kiosks.

The solution launched in just five stores almost a year ago and has since grown to 50 locations. Each of these stores has 1-2 kiosks, usually near customer service or the electronics department. The kiosks allow customers to shop all products on (minus Marketplace items), pay how they want – even cash, if they like – and ship it to store or their home.

Nicole’s team didn’t stop there. They used this same technology to enable associates to help customers make online purchases from anywhere in the store. Associates already use a handheld device for their daily tasks, so Nicole’s team added a new app that allows them to assist customers with merchandise on the spot.

Let’s say you’re looking for a laptop. With this new app, an associate can pull up reviews on his or her handheld device so you can see which one has the best reviews. Once you’ve made your choice, that associate can check you out right there or take you to a kiosk to let you pay without a card. Same thing goes if you can’t find what you’re looking for in the store – they can help you find it online, show you the reviews and help you check out.

Not every store will get a kiosk, but the team is working to get the associate-facing app on all their handheld devices.

Watch this video to see how the kiosk came to life.