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Fresh Perspectives with Walmart Canada's Kimberly Roberts

In this ongoing series, Canadian Grocer catches up with produce leaders from across the country

Fresh Perspectives is a new series from Canadian Grocer, in partnership with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), where we check in with produce leaders from across the country to find out how consumer behaviours are changing, what are the biggest challenges for produce and what is the outlook for this critical department? Here we talk to Kimberly Roberts, senior director of merchandising, produce and floral at Walmart Canada.

What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the produce department? What tactics are being employed to address this challenge? 
We need to ensure consistent supply of the produce items our customers expect to find in our department. With the volatility we have seen in sales and shopping behaviours, maintaining our in-stock has been a top priority. We are working very closely with our replenishment teams, supplier partners as well, we have increased some of our direct store deliveries to assist with supporting this.

Will local produce play a more important role in your offer going forward?
Local produce has always and will always play a very important role in our offering. Today, the importance of supporting Canadian farmers and growers has been amplified and we will continue to source as much local produce as possible, especially when in-season. We have also redesigned our in-store marketing materials for this year's program and increased our farmer stories in flyer to help bring awareness to Canadians that Walmart supports local growers from coast-to-coast.

What categories are thriving in your produce department? 
Vegetables have been thriving. With more Canadians staying home and making meals at home, all core vegetables are seeing growth. Seasonal local fruit, such as watermelon, peaches and cherries have also been in very high demand.

What are the key elements of a good merchandising strategy? 
Any merchandising strategy has to be easy for our associates to execute at store level in order for it to be successful, which in turn will improve the customer shopping experience.

How do you assure your customers on the safety of items in the produce department (given recent recalls, the Romaine situation etc.)
Food safety is a top priority at Walmart Canada and we have a very robust food safety program. Recalls, if they are to happen, are managed through a very defined process at both distribution centre and store levels to ensure products are removed from sale immediately. From a sourcing perspective, we work very closely with our growers and suppliers to ensure they have all of the proper food safety protocols in place.

What's your strategy for minimizing shrink in the produce department?
Freshness. From the moment an item is picked it needs to get to the store and to our customer as soon as possible. Maintaining freshness and turns are key to operating with minimal shrink.

What would you say is the outlook for produce? 
The outlook for produce is strong. It's been remarkable to see the strength of the produce industry during these past few months. With everything growers, packers and retailers have been recently faced with, I think as a whole the industry has really shown how strong they are.

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