Business

#PattiPie, New Cobblers and the Evolution of Our Bakeries

When Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie hit Walmart stores last fall, the demand for #PattiPie became so high we could barely keep enough of them on the shelves.

As a merchant for our fresh bakery, this was exciting news. It proved that the work by Kinna Thomas, our senior buyer of cakes and pies, and our entire team to provide premium goods baked with high-quality ingredients was not going unnoticed.

It also proved that taking the extra time and effort to think outside of the box whenever we’re developing bakery goods makes a real difference to our customers. Taking it to the next level for this holiday season, Kinna was reviewing Ms. LaBelle’s cookbooks and stumbled across one of her famous cobbler recipes. We knew how important it was to hit the mark perfectly.

After testing and trying out the product, I’m excited to announce that together, we’ve cooked up three premium cobblers in peach, apple and mixed berry flavors for #PattiPie fans to enjoy, starting Sept. 2. Not only are they packed full with quality fruit, they’re baked with two crusts – one on top and one on bottom – to ensure that sugary crisp bite.

Knowing that most cobblers on the market today are frozen, we worked to find the right supplier to create a unique fresh version. Turns out we had the right company with us all along: Twin Star Bakery out of Houston, who currently makes a number of decadent items for Walmart, including oversized sandwich cookies and specialty dessert cakes. As a matter of fact, the cobbler expansion will bring over a hundred new jobs to their factory.

In addition to the cobblers, we’re also bringing Ms. LaBelle’s apple pecan cake and sweet potato pound cake to select stores. The sweet potato pound cake was a joint venture to with a small Philadelphia business, Brown Betty Dessert Boutique. We will offer this delicious Southern-style treat in select stores in the Northeast.

The success of Patti’s sweet potato pie – and the resulting expansion of her personal recipe-based product line – is just one example of how we are working to transform our fresh bakery offerings through innovation. We are so proud to offer amazing new items across our entire bakery. Just last year, we added about 60 new items and we continue to innovate. Today, more than half of our items are prepared in our stores, and we’ve enriched our teams across the country with bakery technicians who’ve been training and helping our store associates to ensure everything comes out exactly right. On top of that, we’re simplifying our processes so that we can bake many different items at one temperature, allowing us to produce more fresh-baked goods for our customers every day.

It’s a sweet time to work in Walmart’s fresh bakery, and we’re excited to see our customers’ reactions as we work to deliver every ingredient just right.

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Community

How Cocoa and Honeybees Are Helping Latin American Farmers Thrive

A simple honeybee: It provides you with deliciously sweet honey for your tea. It helps pollinate the crops of fruits and vegetables that end up on your family’s dinner plate – even the coffee beans for your morning drink. That same honeybee can also help small family farmers in places like the dense forests of Mexico thrive.

Many Latin American agricultural businesses don’t survive long term. But it isn’t because they’re fighting against Mother Nature or bad crops or not enough hard-working laborers. It usually boils down to a lack of financial training and little access to credit.

Now, here’s where that bee and your morning coffee come back into the picture.

Root Capital, with support from the Walmart Foundation, is helping provide credit and training to 24 agricultural businesses throughout Mexico. These enterprises play a critical role in linking small farmers to faraway global markets, resulting in more stable incomes. Over the next two years, we will work with honey, cocoa and coffee cooperatives that collectively reach 7,500 small farmers.

Since the project launched in December 2017, it has provided tailored training in financial management and accounting systems to eight Mexican honey and coffee cooperatives. We’ve also supported four of these businesses – that previously had no access to credit from commercial banks – with $1.1 million in new financing. To date, this credit and training has strengthened the livelihoods of more than 2,000 small farmers.

This project also gives us the opportunity to help farmers unlock the hidden potential of honey and cocoa. Despite growing U.S. demand for honey, most honey producers are extremely poor. And they’ve usually turned to beekeeping to supplement income from their primary activity – coffee farming. But honey offers economic opportunities to those able to invest in it: It doesn’t require much land, can be pursued in many different climates and tends to generate relatively high earnings per kilo. Plus, the benefits of beekeeping go beyond livelihoods. Healthy hives sustain diverse ecosystems by pollinating plants, including many of the crops we depend on for food.

Cocoa holds similar promise. Latin America produces 48% of the world’s sustainable cocoa and 85% of its certified organic cocoa. Demand for fine chocolate means there’s significant room for growth. Like honey, cocoa provides an alternative crop for small-scale coffee farmers threatened by climate change and food insecurity.

Thanks to support from the Walmart Foundation, Root Capital will build the capacity of early-stage honey, cocoa and coffee businesses to access stable financing. And that stability will, in turn, empower farming families in Mexico to invest in nutritious food and education for their children, better farm productivity and so much more.

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Business

Express Yourself: Walmart Introduces Relaxed Dress Guidelines in Stores

It’s an exciting day as we say goodbye to our outdated dress code and unveil new guidelines designed to help you be...you.

We’ve been listening to your feedback and are really excited to switch from the old, long text-based policy full of “Don’ts” to a lookbook loaded with great color photos showing how you can make your personal style work at work.

This is a big deal – and I’m speaking from experience. I started in the stores as an hourly intern and worked 16 years in the field. Growing up in stores, I always tried to make the dress code mine, like adding a necklace to the required blue shirt and khakis to try and dress them up a bit. But, no matter what you do, wearing the same clothes day after day gets boring.

When you can use almost your entire closet to get dressed and express your own style, you’re more engaged and feel inspired to go out and meet people. You feel included and more confident – and that confidence rubs off on others.

You’re also more comfortable. Here are three big changes that should help in that department:

  1. All associates can now wear any color denim – yes, jeans!
  2. Shirts of any color or pattern are now allowed – no more requisite blue, unless it’s your favorite color!
  3. Management can join hourly associates in wearing sneakers. This one speaks to me. I remember what it was like having to wear dress shoes in the stores and walking 8 to 10 miles a day while on the job. Oof!

What hasn’t changed: Our iconic vest and the name badge. These will ensure our customers can find our associates and identify who gave them great service.

The new guidelines go into effect this month across all 4,700 stores in the U.S. We’ll even be celebrating the changes with a “Bring Yourself to Work Day” on June 4.

Updating our dress code wasn’t a sudden decision. The process included a pilot phase in several dozen stores. The reaction from associates in those stores has been amazing. Not only do they love the new relaxed looks, they’ve gone so far as to stage their own fashion shows.

We learned from the pilot that our associates love photos showing what’s allowed, and that we’re acknowledging it’s OK to be different. We don’t want anyone to feel like they have to be someone they aren’t when they’re at Walmart.

Managers are also given more flexibility to say “Yes” instead of “No, you can’t.” This way, they can focus on how our associates do their jobs and interact with customers rather than playing fashion police.

Safety and professionalism are still at the core, but relaxing the rules on style and letting people bring their whole selves to work just makes good sense for the business, for our people – and for fashion.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Answering the Open Call: Entrepreneurs Bring It at Walmart’s Annual Event

It was high-stakes show-and-tell yesterday at Walmart’s annual U.S. Manufacturing Open Call event.

Entrepreneurs representing more than 450 businesses roamed the halls of our Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas, awaiting their turn to pitch everything from salsa to sportswear in front of Walmart buyers. Weaving my way through the crowd, I saw hundreds of original and inventive items and had the privilege of meeting some of the people and hearing some of the stories behind them.

A few of those people walked away with deals, a few heard maybes and others received feedback that will prepare them to try again. Here are five of my favorites.

1. Flying High. Megan Hardwick had a roller-coaster ride of a day. The business owner and mom had to pitch her Wings Cosmetics eyeliner stamps twice: once in a small room in front of a buyer, then in an auditorium filled with other hopefuls and Walmart associates. Our cosmetics buyer was sold on Megan’s invention – flexible plastic stamps that apply liquid or gel eyeliner in sharp, matching wing shapes in seconds.

Flying high after getting a deal, she was selected for a live pitch session called “Bring It,” where businesses vied for crowdsourcing to identify which products would get placement in Walmart stores. Megan’s Wings went up against Mighty Good Pizza Saver – a microwavable plastic container that keeps leftover pizza fresh – and the competition was intense, with the Pizza Saver taking the lead by one point seconds before the polls closed. Megan wasn’t out of the game though. Her Wings pulled through and the contest ended with a tie.

2. Sparking Interest. Warren Brown, a lawyer-turned-baker from the Washington, D.C., area, attended his first Open Call in 2017 and ultimately landed a deal for Don’t Forget Cake: a single-serve layer cake with frosting in a jar. This year, he presented a healthier snacking option called Spark Bites. Warren said these whole-grain snacks are gluten- and allergen-free, high in fiber, low in cane sugar and come in five different flavors. His Spark Bites were referred to another buyer in a category that better fits the product. As for Don’t Forget Cake, two flavors launched in March and will soon be available in 1,000 Walmart stores.

3. Ugly Dates Deserve Love. This story begins all the way in Israel. When David Czinn and his friend and business partner, Brian Finkel, were studying abroad in the Middle East, they both fell in love with the region’s alternative to honey: D’vash date nectar. The sweetener has been a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine for thousands of years, David said, and the duo wanted to bring it to the States – but they wanted to cut the sugar and make it environmentally friendly. Thus D’vash Organics was born. Their dates come from Coachella Valley farms in California. “We buy the ugly ones that wouldn’t otherwise be sold,” David said. The nectar is vegan, has 25% less sugar than honey and can add flavor to tea and coffee, marinades, salad dressing and much more. David, a second-time Open Call participant, said he got positive feedback and was excited for the future of this ancient delight as he prepared for more meetings later in the day.

4. Party to Go. With the summer heat just getting started, ready-to-go cocktails sound like a great idea for parties and relaxing evenings outside with friends. YUMIX has quenched the need with three flavors – Orange Mango, Margarita and Sea Breeze. Everything needed is in one bottle: Simply twist off the bottom chamber that holds the alcohol, pour into the bottle and mix. Alex Garner, founder and CEO, started the day off right when he walked out of the pitch meeting with a deal for these adult beverages.

5. The Heart of the Deal. Not everyone was at Open Call with products in tow. Businessman Ray Doustdar was back for his second year with advice and a listening ear. In 2017, Ray pitched his liquid multivitamins, Buiced – a play on “boost your veggie juice” – and didn’t immediately get a deal because the product was too big for Walmart’s shelves. Ray took the buyer’s feedback home, adjusted the size of the packaging, approached the buyer again and got his “yes.” Two flavors of Buiced, citrus and fruit punch, are now available in 3,000 stores, and the experience has been life-changing for Ray. “I knew I wanted to come back as a success story and help other people prepare for their meetings,” Ray said. “This experience has made me be better at my business,” he said, and being able to pay it forward as a mentor is important to him.

Ray said it best: “The stories coming out of Open Call are proof that the American dream is alive and well.”

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U.S. Manufacturing

Diary of a Dairy Farm: Meet the Dirksens, Who Supply Milk to Walmart

Growing up in rural Ohio, Tina Dirksen doesn’t remember picking up many things at the store. Aside from toothpaste, her family’s farm produced everything else that their 14-person household needed.

Modern life is a bit different, she explained, but it’s clear that she means that only with regard to her family’s shopping habits. A lot of her life actually remains the same: She’s still in the farming business, with multiple operations that produce pork, grain, corn and dairy. And she’s still a part of a big family, today the mother of eight children who all love animals and the land.

“I ask them what they want to do in the future and each one of them tells me they want to farm,” she said. “They know no other life. They truly enjoy it.”

While the Dirksens somehow find time to do their own gardening, canning and butchering some of their own meat, Tina says they make two trips to their local Walmart per week. So when the opportunity arose for them to sell milk to Walmart’s new dairy plant in nearby Fort Wayne, they were excited. They would be shipping their milk just a short distance, and by working directly with a retailer, they could oversee more details themselves.

“It totally made sense to me,” she said. “Farming is changing, and the dairy industry as a whole needs more outlets for their milk. This new plant offers that.”

Local farmers like the Dirksen family are critical to Walmart’s entry in to milk processing. Nearly 30 farms across Indiana and Michigan have signed up to provide milk to the 250,000-square-foot state-of-the-art plant, which began construction in 2016 on the heels of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s strategy to increase the volume of dairy processing locally. In opening this facility, Walmart joins a majority of other grocery retailers who run their own milk processing operations.

For the Dirksens, doing business in dairy is an investment for the future. Their 8,000-hog pork farm provides the majority of their income, while any profits the dairy farm produces are put back into improving it alone. Tina keeps up with industry innovations and implements those that are beneficial for the cows, the business and the environment.

“Sustainability is accountability,” she said. “If you don’t make a farm that is sustainable, it won’t be very profitable to you. It’s not something that we take lightly.”

The Dirksens care equally about their relationships with the people and the animals who work for them. While Tina’s responsibilities on the farm are mostly administrative, she oversees veterinary care for the cows and has been known to help out her employees by even babysitting their kids once in a while. Her family even spends time with cows on their off hours – they’ve had a pet, a Jersey cow they named Good Golly Molly, for 7 years.

“What I love most about farming is that it provides us the opportunity to do what’s best for our family,” she said. “To us, working with Walmart is an exciting adventure.”

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