For details on Wal-Mart's produce traceability efforts, please see: Wal-Mart sets PTI label deadline for suppliers

Wal-Mart ramps up direct sourcing of fresh produceWal-Mart Stores Inc. is “cutting out the middleman” to reduce produce transit and improve quality, although the company says the new fresh produce focus isn’t leaving wholesalers entirely out of the equation.

The retailer announced the produce initiative — the company has gone to some direct sourcing of fruits and vegetables in recent years — during a June 3 conference call.

Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of grocery for Walmart U.S., said the company plans to source 80% of its fresh produce directly.

“The other 20% will be through local wholesalers — those wholesalers play an important role for us in the areas we serve,” he said.

Danit Marquardt, corporate communications director, reinforced that Wal-Mart’s program is about a number of efforts the company has taken both recently and over the past several years, including setting up satellite buying offices in growing regions and making improvements to transportation and logistics through the distribution system. The company does not plan to make any changes to its working relationships with wholesalers,

“We’ve worked over the past several years and opened offices and are working with growers more directly to decrease time and getting produce there faster,” Marquardt said.

The company also launched a new marketing campaign for its fresh produce operations, Fresh Over, which is reinforcing its 100% satisfaction guarantee for fresh produce purchased in stores.

Customers need only bring their receipt, and not the product in question, to stores to receive their money back.

The company also instituted widespread training for 70,000 of store managers down to floor-level associates on proper handling and merchandising of fresh produce. This Fresh Produce School will help employees identify what produce belongs on the shelf and what needs to be removed, Sinclair said.

“We are trying to ensure that every level of management has been trained on the product, and can identify the quality of the product and that our associates are engaged in culling the product,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re trained on how to look for product that needs to be taken off the sales floor.”

This Fresh Produce School involves visual training, including photographs, so associates understand the expectations of produce freshness, he said.