Walmart wants to stock more specialty food brands on its shelves.
Executives of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based big-box retailer discussed opportunities for entrepreneurs during a presentation at the Summer Fancy Food Show on June 25 in New York. Afterwards, eight Walmart buyers representing $20 billion in purchasing power met with participants to accept pitches.
The “everyday low prices” chain is broadening its assortment to match evolving consumer tastes, says Laura Rush, vice-president and division manager of frozen brands.
“Our customer is asking for change, asking for innovation, wanting access to top brands as well as different types of food that they’ve never even experienced in a Walmart store,” she says. “We believe the customer deserves access to everything. Not just cheap food, but good food, great food, and we are trying to figure out the right recipe to make sure we do it the right way for you and for our customers.”
A product may be slotted in as few as 10 of the more than 4,000 Walmart U.S. stores, she said.
“We’ve heard you say it is not easy to get into a Walmart, and so we are evolving our process,” she said. “We’ve now built programs to help you get set up faster.”
For example, Caulipower, a brand of frozen cauliflower-crust pizza, launched in a handful of Walmart stores in 2017, “and now it’s chainwide, and it’s one of our top pizzas,” Rush says.
Often, small business owners believe their product may not resonate with Walmart shoppers, said Kevin Head, vice-president and division manager of breakfast and bread.
“Every single customer is our customer,” Head says. “If you think about the overall breadth and scope that Walmart has, over 90% of all Americans live within 10 miles of a Walmart store… We have customers who are rich, poor and everything in between. It’s the customer that’s the driving force behind our overall strategy, and that’s where you’re seeing a lot of change being sparked.”
Another misconception among start-ups is that a product, packaging and go-to-market strategy must be perfected prior to discussions with a Walmart buyer.
“We have culinary chefs, we have a marketing department that can help, so you don’t need to feel like, ‘I’m a small mom-and-pop business, and I’ve got to show up and have a $300 million marketing plan,’” Head says. “We actually don’t want that… We would rather co-create with you along the way so we can learn together.”
Walmart also may provide access to procurement and logistics resources to help scale brands and lower costs, Rush added.
“We’ve been on a mission to tell you we’re changing,” she says. “We haven’t done it right … we haven’t been good at it, but we are actually working to get better and incubate the right way and work with you the right way and have a very transparent relationship, a win-win relationship for understanding how you need to grow and doing it the responsible way.”