June 3 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc said on Monday it is offering a money-back guarantee on the fruits and vegetables it sells at its Walmart U.S. stores as it tries to gain more ground in the grocery business.
Walmart is the largest grocer and seller of produce in the United States. It has already lowered prices on produce as it tries to get its shoppers, many of whom are on limited budgets, to buy more healthy fare. Now, it is working on getting fresher produce to its stores more quickly and training its staff to do a better job of selling the goods.
Walmart is able to cut the time it takes to get produce into stores by buying directly from growers and relying on its own distribution centers and trucking systems. It has produce experts working with farmers in key growing regions and aims to double its sales of locally grown produce by December 2015.
Buying more local produce and cutting supply chain costs have helped Walmart keep a lid on prices, which has been key in its push to stay ahead of rivals that include traditional grocers such as Kroger Co and drugstores such as Walgreen Co. Walmart started to see sales gains in produce earlier this year after it began making improvements in produce handling.
Other chains, such as Safeway Inc and Texas’ H-E-B, have already offered guarantees on their produce, but Walmart’s push will be the biggest as it is the nation’s biggest retailer.
Walmart customers not satisfied with the produce can bring their receipt back to the store for a refund. Walmart said the shoppers will not need to bring back the produce to qualify.
To ensure that fresh produce makes it to the stores, Walmart said unnamed third-party service providers will do weekly checks in more than 3,400 of its stores selling produce. Walmart said it would benchmark itself and its competitors week over week.
Walmart also said it recently began a produce training program for 70,000 employees. Store managers, market managers and produce department managers are set to learn more about handling fruits and vegetables. Quality guides for workers will illustrate how to identify top produce, the company said.
Grocers, restaurants and food makers are under pressure from consumers and public health officials to sell more healthful food in an effort to address the nation’s obesity crisis. More than two-thirds of U.S. adults and nearly one-third of youth aged 2 to 19 are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food is a huge business for the world’s largest retailer, which has been lowering prices, along with its healthier makeover, to boost sales. Groceries, from food and drinks to cleaning products, accounted for 55 percent of Walmart U.S.’s $274.5 billion in sales in the latest fiscal year.