BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Supercenters here has set four locations for its latest prototype stores that will focus on expanded and redesigned fresh sections.
The company is also moving to expand its meals-to-go business in supercenters and devising ways of tailoring home-meal replacement items for specific markets.
Of the 40 or so stores the company will open this fall, four will be set up in the new configuration, said Joe Tapper, vice president deli and bakery for Wal-Mart Supercenters, a division of Wal-Mart Stores here.
The stores will be located in Fayetteville, Ark.; Memphis, Tenn.; Clarksburg, W.Va.; and Logan, W.Va.
"This next prototype is significant because we have repositioned the department to maximize and enhance our fresh image," said Tapper. "We're making a serious commitment to all fresh foods in the stores in that there will be expansion in all the fresh areas.
"These stores we'll use as live test laboratories, so we can redefine our program for next year," Tapper added. "We'll try to figure out what's best, and we'll adjust the new prototype as we go."
Wal-Mart officials have been saying since last year that the company intended to reposition store layouts to be oriented more to perishables merchandising.
Wal-Mart has already been gauging consumer reaction to new home meal replacement products in a Richmond, Va., store. "We're utilizing that store as a laboratory for vendors to ship products in and see how consumers like them. We're trying to get a feel for how to handle the products more than anything else," he said.
One of the product lines Wal-Mart tested in the Richmond store, meal components from Mallards, Modesto, Calif., has proven successful and was rolled out to all Supercenter stores.
Now, the company is looking at more items to add to its "Meals to Go" program at the price point of two for $5, he said, and is also examining different combinations of premade sandwiches. An important factor is how well any potential new item can be introduced, supplied and maintained at up to 600 stores, he said.
Company officials are also focusing on understanding how a large national company resolves national and regional differences in HMR and other fresh departments.
"The classic example for us is the two stores we have in Tulsa, Okla., where the clientele is entirely different, and putting the same program in both stores would absolutely be the wrong thing to do," Tapper said."We're trying to figure out how to find the common ground for both markets so we can maximize the benefits of both."