Grocery delivery might have seemed like a peripheral service just a handful of years ago, but the niche market has ballooned into one where brands really can’t take the risk of not getting their name out there if they have the resources to do so. However, that doesn’t mean the art of selling fruits and veggies in a controlled environment in-store translates perfectly online. In some ways, it doesn’t translate at all, which is why Walmart’s new experiment with imperfect produce could open up a new a door of culinary commerce.
The mega-retailer announced last Tuesday (July 19) that it was launching a new initiative to get more imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables onto store shelves. In particular, a discount brand of apples from Washington State that goes by the name of “I’m Perfect” – and contains only physically misshapen varieties – will grace the shelves of about 300 stores in Florida.
That’s not all, though. Fortune is reporting that Walmart has also begun to experiment with malformed potatoes. In 400 stores in Texas, these so-called “Spuglies” are tempting shoppers to let go of their preconceptions over how their food should look in exchange for a few cents off the price. It’s a move that Shawn Baldwin, senior vice president of global food sourcing at Walmart, sees as benefiting everyone involved in the manufacture and sale of fresh groceries.
“What excites me the most about the launch of these “I’m Perfect” apples is that it is a result of working with our suppliers to build the infrastructure and processes that create a new home for perfectly imperfect produce,” Baldwin said in a blog post. “Because ugly produce can occur unexpectedly in any growing season or crop, we want to have the systems in place to offer this type of produce whenever it may occur. The ‘I’m Perfect’ product is just one example of the ways we are aiming to reduce food waste, supporting growers, and providing value to our customers.”
Walmart has been extremely active on the fresh produce quality management front lately. Not two weeks ago, it was uncovered that Walmart has been using specially designed carriages for employees working in the produce departments. Complete with built-in scales and special compartments for spoiled products, the carts will ostensibly help Walmart be a better in-store purveyor of produce in all its shapes and sizes.
So with all these updates to the way Walmart sells its grocery products in its physical stores, what might that say about the future of the way it sells online?
For one, selling imperfect products online and sight unseen is a much riskier proposition than doing so in a store. While a shopper in a physical store can judge the value of a particular package of misshapen fruit in relation to the discounts offered, unless Walmart and other grocery deliverers send individual pictures of in-store produce to online shoppers, this dynamic is all but unfeasible. The solution, then, could be a simple one. If the risk of buying imperfect produce online is higher than it is in a store, then perhaps the rewards need to follow suit. A moderately discounted package of ripe yet oblong apples may attract a frugal shopper’s eye in a physical store, but online, that might have to be a generous discount instead to overcome the greater inertia to purchase that the medium entails. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s one that in-store merchants are going to have to wrestle with soon before online grocery orders take up more and more of their time.