The Grocery Business Cutting Edge Innovator in Produce award was introduced in 2018 to recognize individuals and businesses with creative approaches to supporting the needs of shoppers. Grocery Business speaks with this year’s winner, Kimberly Roberts, senior director of merchandising for produce and floral at Walmart Canada.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Balancing the focus on quality and everyday low pricing with the curveballs produce throws your way, like weather and supply chain changes.
What does innovation in the produce industry look like for you?
For me, innovation in this space is centred around how we bring customers better-quality produce in a more sustainable, efficient way.
Where do you get inspiration for your work?
With growers, it’s about the pride, hard work and innovation that goes into growing fresh produce for Canadians and getting that product to shelf in the shortest amount of time possible.
With customers, you learn a lot about your business and them when you’re in stores, which is why I try to spend as much time there as possible. Being in store inspires me with new opportunities to find solutions for our customers – often for problems they haven’t identified themselves. That could be through driving more efficiencies within our own supply chain or how we’re delivering an experience to our customers.
What are some of the produce programs or initiatives you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
I’ve spent almost a decade working in produce at Walmart Canada. All the initiatives that I am most proud of were possible because of this team.
- Initiatives centered around sustainability. Our team has delivered several in recent years, including working to remove unnecessary plastic in produce wherever possible (like on our organic bananas and peppers) and increasing our usage of RPCs (Reusable Packaging Containers) to remove master mesh bags, like we did on our carrots and onions. We have supported initiatives to remove polystyrene and transitioned to 100 per cent recycled plastic packaging in some programs. We’ve also transitioned our entire organic banana program to Fair Trade Certified.
- We improved our sourcing model and drove efficiencies in our supply chain to deliver a fresher product.
- We accelerated and expanded our local grower partnerships. We also launched a fresh new marketing campaign to help bring awareness to our local products and growers.
My role on the CPMA board has given me the ability to participate in committees like the Plastics Working Group, with the goal to align on a path forward.
How are you addressing the growing demand for local?
We focus on Canadian-grown produce. We’re fortunate that Canada has a great local season, and we’re looking for opportunities to extend it. For example, we now deliver a Canadian-grown strawberry all year long, thanks to our collaboration with Mastronardi Produce. We’re also looking to facilitate more regional products on our shelves, including recent events in Ontario and New Brunswick, to engage with and encourage local suppliers.
How do you balance the need for local, sustainably grown offerings with the rising cost of produce?
The industry is trending towards more sustainably grown produce and we know customers want to see more local produce, too. Luckily, these priorities go hand in hand. Although the perception can be that more sustainably grown or locally grown produce can be more expensive, we’re able to bring these items that our customers want to shelf at the everyday low prices they expect from us.
What’s the most interesting produce you’ve stocked in your store?
Lychee or Rambutan. If you haven’t tried Rambutan, you should; they are delicious. We continue to expand on our assortment and store reach in global foods. As immigration in Canada continues to grow, we need to ensure we are sourcing the right assortment to serve our customers’ needs.
What’s your favourite fruit or vegetable?
Strawberries and cucumbers.
How do you envision the produce department changing in years ahead?
More local. More sustainable. More convenience. I expect to see more meal-solution-based offerings.