Wal-Mart has a problem with not-so-fresh groceries

On top of empty shelves and long checkout lines, the giant retailer is also struggling with expired produce and other goods.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 4, 2013 10:56AM

Image: Dad and daughter selecting produce © Katrina Wittkamp/Lifesize/Getty ImagesAfter Wal-Mart (WMT) got into the grocery business two decades ago, the company wooed consumers with low prices on dry goods and produce.

But its fresh foods -- such as produce, meat, and bakery and deli items -- are now becoming a headache as dwindling staffing leads to not-so-fresh items lingering on shelves, according to The New York Times

That was backed up by a Reddit user, who on Tuesday posted a photo of a dozen glazed yeast donuts he bought at a Wal-Mart in Kentucky. The packaging had three "best by" stickers on it, with the older, expired stickers covered by those with more recent dates.

That's not going to help Wal-Mart's image, which is already hurting after a Bloomberg report said the retailer lacked enough workers to keep its shelves properly stocked. As MSN moneyNOW reported Tuesday, Wal-Mart said the story isn't representative of what's happening countrywide with its locations. 

But the problem certainly appears to be hurting consumers' confidence in Wal-Mart's grocery business, The Times reports. 

Citing internal notes from a meeting of top Wal-Mart managers held last month, the newspaper reports that the retailer's customers are 48% confident in its fresh produce. By comparison, Safeway (SWY) customers are 71% confident in its produce. 

That might explain why Wal-Mart has just a 15% share in fresh grocery items while its dry grocery maintains a 20% share, according to data in the article.

Even more startling are Wal-Mart's per-store employee figures. Before the recession started in 2007, each Wal-Mart and Sam's Club location had an average of 338 employees. That has dwindled to only 281, The Times says. 

As a result, keeping shelves stocked is a problem. The Wal-Mart meeting's notes reflect this, with one saying, "1 hour out of Refrigeration = 1 day less product life,” according to the publication. 

Wal-Mart is working on fixing the issue by not stocking food at night and by adding secret shoppers to report on grocery quality. "What we're trying to do this year is really accelerate the produce side of our business with better quality," Jack Sinclair, a Wal-Mart executive for food, told The Times. 

But Wal-Mart apparently doesn't want consumers to know about its doughnut problems: The Reddit user said he posted his photo of the old donuts twice to the retailer's Facebook page and says the picture was deleted each time. 

The bigger question for Wal-Mart will be whether disgruntled customers can be convinced its salad days aren't expired.

More on moneyNOW

Apr 4, 2013 1:02PM

Instead of hiring "secret shoppers" why don't they just hire more employees ?

Apr 4, 2013 11:31AM
Did you think growers were going to offer-up their best produce after enduring Wal-Mart's intimidation and ridiculous demands? A rotten apple gets what it deserves.
Apr 4, 2013 11:48AM
At this very moment of my life I have a head of lettuce sitting on my counter. I bought it yesterday and when I took it out to fix a salad last night, , the entire thing is brown clear through--none of it fit to use. I'm returning it as I am tired of paying good money for useless produce. Last week I was charged for two loaves of bread when I only purchased one. Walmart is definitely losing its touch.
Apr 4, 2013 12:08PM

"Why this attack on Wal-Mart????"

Because we want out Main Streets and economy back. Walton family heirs are the equivalent in wealth to 130 million Americans. They are inheritors who have used ruthless tactics to put free enterprise out of business. There would never have been a Wal-Mart if the founder wasn't able to do what he did. Its time to throw administrative terrorism and retained law out of America. I'll take risky free enterprise over being assimilated like cattle every day. You American? Start acting like it.

Apr 4, 2013 12:01PM
I live in a community where the local Politicians granted Zoning Variances, against the voters wishes, for a Super Wal-Mart. The smaller stores and grocery stores were forced to close.  When it 1st arrived, prices were good and produce and Meat was fresh. Now, 6 years later, shelves are not being restocked, Meat in the cooler units are actually green and spoiled produce is not even thrown out and the store is "junky". It looks like an Indoor Yard Sale.  Since the other stores closed, people in the Community drive 30 miles to a "decent Grocery Store". And the Politicians, they were Democrats (for others they may have had Republicans -it doesn't matter) and were "forced" from office. 

Not to mention how high the prices are getting at wal mart. They are no longer the inexpensive store that lured us there, Winco is way cheaper for food products.


My wife and I have been boycotting walmart for a while now and are happy with Winco and costco.

Apr 4, 2013 11:48AM
We stopped shopping for produce and meat at Walmart years ago, we got tired of it rotting and being no good just a few days after purchase.  Less groceries at Walmart turned into less trips and we go there maybe once every 2/3 months. 
Apr 4, 2013 12:34PM
Walmart's bakeries are the worst I've ever seen in my life. 
Apr 4, 2013 1:09PM

Wal-Mart has horrible food produce and bakery. Oh, and when are they going to get a handle on customers using their food stamps or food assistance cards to buy carts of grocery only to return half of the items for a refund.


What a waste of food and tax payers money.



Apr 4, 2013 1:20PM
if anyone goes to walmart, they deserve what they get. sam walton would be horrified to see today what his company has turned into. the company only cares about money now. I predict it will gegin to close stores as they do not return what they want. bigger is not always better. if you want good products at good prices , then go to aldi's. they have very good products and very cheap prices.  
Apr 4, 2013 12:35PM
once a business reaches the size of walmart it becomes harder and harder to manage. there must be virtually no one at a store with any authority to do anything. there is no more labor for them to cut. imagine 281 people to staff a 100,000 to 150,000 square foot store that is open at least 84 hours per week and in some cases much more. i am assuming the 281 includes backroom people, stockers, cashiers and everyone else. that means that there are probably never more than 100 on duty. that means if all of them were on the floor (which they are not) they are each covering as much as1500 feet. as someone noted below, walmart busted most of the smaller businesses in small towns. although i do not think that they are inherently bad people, it would be in america's best interest to slow down the oligopolies.
Apr 4, 2013 1:14PM
@V_L  The Walton family is really no longer involved in the actual operation of the company.  Have had dealings with WalMart in the 80's and they were a pleasure to deal with.  Once they got into the mindset of being the largest retailer in the world, things took a serious downturn.  We as consumers, have become either lackadaisical or ignorant.  We did have strong consumer resistance a few decades ago, which now is non existent.  We do have the power to not shop at any of these stores and send a clear message.  I do remember how we ridiculed the Japanese in the late 70's and early 80's about the quality of their products.  Did we ever do that with the Chinese products ..... absolutely not.  We wanted cheap goods and we got what we asked for courtesy all the big stores starting with WalMart.
Apr 4, 2013 1:27PM
Well it's indicative of what's happening at our wal-marts in Indiana. Go to the produce section in our stores- it reeks. Rotting dried up produce everywhere. And the stickers on the bakery items- the same here. The shelves are not stocked very well at all with some out of stock items remaining that way for weeks. They do no have the selection or variety they once had at all. And the prices aren't all that great anymore either. They were 15 or 20 years ago but not now at all. And they often stock items for short periods of time only so you shouldn't get used to being able to find anything there, because just about the time you like a product that they carry- poof it's gone. And the long lines- don't even get me started on that subject  they are horrendous. What ever happened to the policy they once had of if there is ever more that three people lined up at a register they will open another one. No staff to help you find anything. I could just go on and on.
Apr 4, 2013 1:12PM
Never ending problem with my walmart neighborhood store in  NW CAPE CORAL FLORIDA is rusty lettuce and wilted FRESH? VEGATABLES, plus rude service, i have stopped going grocery shopping at walmart, tired of the excuses by the rude help.
Apr 4, 2013 12:41PM
only a handful of oil companies, banks, phone companies, cable tv services, and automakers remain. the antitrust division of the justice department is deader than a doornail. it may take the giants rolling over to get order back. my worst fear is that the government bails out every big company that could go down. i am sorry that it could displace workers, but the reality is that huge combinations effectively are doing the same thing to the little guy.
Apr 4, 2013 1:10PM

Wal-Mart's produce never was as fresh as I've found elsewhere in more upscale groceries. I can't find a good apple at the two stores within 5 miles of us. They look and taste like they were trucked in from South America on an open flatbed truck. You do get what you pay for.


As for Wal-Mart chasing out the competition, not here. Krogers, Food Lion, Martins, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and a boatload of local grocers that offer good value for quality products are doing just fine in this neck of the woods. Personally, I buy my dry goods, milk and bread at Wal-Mart. Everything else, is bought elsewhere.


That is the key, "Good Value". When you have to throw out a day old head of lettuce, or your clothes fall apart in the wash, that's not good value. The Value buy, which Wal-Mart was built on,  has given way to cheap at any cost..

Apr 4, 2013 1:01PM
thank the stars i don't shop for groceries or anything from jolly mart go to target instead better product and goods and plentiful staff
Apr 4, 2013 1:11PM
Yesterday, I was shopping at the Walmart Neighborhood Market ... and picked up an item on their shelves with a Feb 20, 2013 expiration date on it. It turned out that nearly every one of the jars had the same date. Not good ... and not just a few days past its date, but 6 weeks!
But in all fairness, nearly every grocery store chain I have ever shopped at has had past due dated items on their shelves.
Apr 4, 2013 11:06AM
WMT's produce always sucked. Jewel's is much better in my area. More expensive too however. 
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