Health & Wellness

Major Benefits: The Surgery That Got Me Back On Track

My name is Rick and I can't sit still. Some say that’s a problem. I actually take great pride in it.


From marathons to triathlons to waking up on a Saturday morning and riding my bike as far as my legs can take me – I’m addicted to fitness. But that almost changed.

I knew something wasn’t quite right when I got out of the water at a triathlon a few years ago. I managed to tough it out that day, but when I rolled out of bed for another race a few weeks later, I was in such excruciating pain that I fell to my hands and knees.

The diagnosis: slipped vertebra. Before long, it was difficult for me to get from my car to the door at work, much less hop on a bike and take on the world like I wanted. I was sidelined with chronic pain and, ultimately, paralysis set in on my right leg and foot.


I’m pretty good about fighting through pain and fatigue, but this was different. This was beyond pain. There was a point where I started to wonder: What if I can’t swim or ride or run again? What if it’s always like this?

That’s when my wife, Becky, and I – high school sweethearts and both Walmart associates for more than a quarter century – looked into the Centers of Excellence benefit in our health plan. Walmart partners with some of the best medical facilities in the country to provide its associates quality health care with little to no out-of-pocket cost for certain heart, spine, joint replacement and transplant surgeries.

We decided to give it a shot, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more. The company sent my wife and me to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. From access to the expert staff, to the actual surgical procedure, to the hotel room, food, and mileage up there and back home – everything was 100% covered.

With six screws and two rods in my back, I’m no fan of metal detectors. But this procedure really did give me my life back. The pain in my leg virtually vanished the morning after surgery and, over time, I was back to my usual self, pedaling upwards of 300 miles per week.

My wife and I are back to enjoying long bike rides on the weekends, swimming, running – out there enjoying our lives the only way we know how. And I can do so without the fear of what it will feel like tomorrow when I wake up.

To say I’m forever grateful would be an incredible understatement.

Editor's Note: In 2017, Walmart will double the number of world-class medical facilities available to our associates who have been told they need a spine surgery. Learn more here.

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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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Health & Wellness

Five Reasons to Revisit Walmart’s Vitamin Aisle

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a vital part of leading an active life. But, even the most health-conscious of us need a boost from time to time.

That’s why we’re reimagining our vitamin department at Walmart to provide more options for well-balanced nutrition and the prevention of chronic disease. We’re expanding beyond multivitamins and traditional supplements like calcium and vitamin C to include many more of the vitamins, minerals, herbs and powders our customers are looking for as they work to become the best versions of themselves. We’re offering a broad assortment of trusted national brands as well as innovative new items from our own Spring Valley.

Here are five updates you won’t want to miss:

  • Something’s Fishy … And That’s a Good Thing! Do you eat 8 or more ounces of oily fish every week? If you answered no, you’re like most Americans who aren’t getting the recommended amount of omega-3 fats in their diet. We’re introducing three new Spring Valley supplements that offer physician-recommended quantities in 500mg, 1000mg and 2000mg. Our new formulation and labeling will make it easy to find the right one for your health needs.
  • Garden of Life. For the first time, customers can find Garden of Life products at Walmart stores and on Walmart.com. The brand’s clean-ingredient Vitamin Code formulas draw from 22 raw fruits and vegetables without the use of binders, artificial flavors, colors or sugars.
  • Keep It Clean! We’re also upping the ante on clean and organics. Today, we offer 26 organic Spring Valley vitamins and 52 non-GMO (not genetically modified) items.
  • Natural Selection. Herbal and botanical natural plant products have been used throughout human history, and they’re still used today to treat a number of health conditions. We’re adding turmeric, maca root and magnesium powder, as well as choline, Boswellia and even shiitake, reishi and cordyceps mushroom powders. This is in addition to the existing herbs we offer, like beet root powder, cinnamon, garlic and cranberry.
  • Choices, Choices. Vitamins in one-bottle-fits-all can be a tough pill to swallow. Now, our customers can choose the vitamin pack that’s right for them – from daily packs to powders to real-fruit gummies to tablets.

This is a healthy dose of change, and we’re just getting started. Our goal is to ensure our customers get the best assortment of high-quality vitamins and supplements – at everyday low prices.

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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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Opportunity

Surprise, You’re Promoted! Meet Associate Tanaka Chikerema

When Tanaka Chikerema walked into Bud Walton Arena on Friday morning, he was already anticipating the moment he would walk on stage in front of thousands of his fellow associates –he just never expected that Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., would offer him a promotion when he did.

It’s pretty unusual for a CEO to promote one of his field associates on stage in front of an international audience. But then again, so is the path that led Tanaka from the capital city of Harare, Zimbabwe all the way to a stage in Northwest Arkansas.

“I was seven when my mom moved to the U.S.,” Tanaka recalls, “and I was just starting high school in Harare when she called and said it was time for me and my brother to move to Plano, Texas.”

In Zimbabwe, Tanaka’s mother, Dorcus, supported her family as a geography teacher. But economic hardships that still affect the country today created a system of poverty and crime, and she knew that even with a college education her children wouldn’t get the opportunities they deserved if they stayed in Harare.

Over the next seven years, Dorcus earned her nursing degree overseas while supporting her family with the income from three jobs.

“We were all living in one house together, my grandparents, cousins, brother and me,” said Tanaka. “To send any of us to school, there had to be a choice about who it was going to be. My mom knew that if we stayed in Harare, there was a good chance we could end up on the streets or getting into trouble.

“She always told us, ‘I just want you to stay focused. I just want you to have goals and stay on track.’”

When Tanaka graduated from high school in Plano, his mother’s words stuck with him. A job as a part-time truck unloader at his local Walmart quickly advanced as his managers recognized his potential. Within a year, Tanaka was promoted to supervisor. The words of his first mentor, Joe Riviera, still stick with him today: “If you show up and give 110%, it will pay off. It will always pay off.”

And it did. On stage at Walmart’s Associate Meeting, in front of thousands of his colleagues, Tanaka was promoted to a store support manager and recognized for the hours of energy and focus he’s dedicated to the company.

“It humbles me to think about how good my life is now,” Tanaka said, “and how much further I have to go. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that my mom was always right: ‘Get ready for the future, because you never know what it might hold.’”

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