(Feb. 2) Bruce Peterson resigned from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Feb. 2, he reported to The Packer.

“We just literally finished announcing that to the officers and to my group; now it is official,” said Peterson, who has served as senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, Bentonville, Ark.

Peterson said he was offered a generous position as senior vice president of one of Wal-Mart’s “hardline” departments, but indicated he wanted to stay in perishables, particularly produce.

He indicated he would help with the company’s transition process and would stay through the end of February.

“I have no immediate plans . . . at some point in time I would like to get back in the produce business,” he said.

He said he has a non-compete clause, so he won’t be joining a retailer. Peterson said he will take time to consider his options, which may include consulting or joining a produce company. Short term, he said he will stay in the Bentonville region.

UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH

The company does not release its food sales figures, but Peterson’s 15 year plus tenure at Wal-Mart was a time of tremendous growth for the retailer.

Total sales for Wal-Mart have increased from less than $50 billion when Peterson joined in 1991 to well over $300 billion today.

The number of supercenters jumped from 6 to 2,258, along with today’s 116 neighborhood markets, 38 distribution centers and a West Coast consolidation facility.

“Never before has there been a company that has grown their food business like that and it will never happen again,” Peterson said.

Peterson credited the work of suppliers in meeting Wal-Mart’s produce needs.

“If it wasn’t for the suppliers we worked with it would never have happened,” he said.

Peterson helped transformed the produce supply business by applying Wal-Mart’s principles of vendor co-managed replenishment to produce. He also was instrumental in the industry trend toward reusable plastic containers and, later, radio frequency identification technology.

“We have grown in this together. My contributions pale in comparison with suppliers in the industry,” he said.

Peterson recalled his interview with company founder Sam Walton in 1991, when Peterson was managing produce sales for a Nebraska supermarket chain.

“I wanted the opportunity to meet him (and) I didn’t care if I got the job or not,” he said.

Sam Walton hired Peterson, perhaps on the strength of his work experience with Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich. Meijer, like Wal-Mart, was a combination retail store.

At a meeting today when he announced his resignation, Peterson said he appreciated a compliment from a colleague who told him “Sam Walton would have been proud” of his service to the company.

Peterson praised Wal-Mart’s ability to adapt to changing conditions and expressed confidence in Wal-Mart’s produce team, led by Ron McCormick, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for produce and floral.

“Wal-Mart is always trying to do a better job for its customers,” he said.

Peterson said there have been no other announcements about who would fill his position or any other moves that would affect perishables.

Peterson leaving Wal-Mart, but may stay in produce
Peterson