The Supply Side: New items picked by Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club after ‘open call’

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 515 views 

Wal-Mart is making a habit of Christmas shopping in early July with its Open Call event that invited 340 suppliers into its backyard for a chance to pitch their nearly 600 inventions. While the retail giant has not released an officials list of products chosen, executives have spent the past two days touting their favorite finds from Tuesday’s (July 7) open dall.

Greg Foran, Walmart U.S. CEO, said he was excited about the range of new products he found in the seven or eight supplier meetings that he attended Tuesday.

“Our customers tell us they love to buy products made in the USA, they can feel good about that,” Foran said. “Each new product will help generate growth, for our stores, the suppliers and their communities.”

Memphis’ Jennifer McCullough whose Chef Jenn frozen seafood entrees were selected last year’s at Open Call, said sales have risen to nearly $500,000 after her contract with Wal-Mart. She was back in Bentonville this week and had eight new breading and sauce products accepted. Those products will soon be in 300 stores.

It can take anywhere from six to 18 months for products to go from Open Call to the store shelves but in some cases seasonal products are fast-tracked through the system.

Hugh Jarratt, with Fayetteville-based Jarratt Industries, and whose taco plate made locally and accepted at last year’s open call, said it took several months to get the product on the shelves. His wading socks, selected at this year’s Open Call are likely to be fast-tracked so they can be in selected stores this fall as the target buyers are duck hunters and fly-fishermen.

Some of the other new products chosen at Open Call by merchants range from spray-on sunblock to pizza ovens and 5-minute meat marinades.

Foran touted some of his favorite finds at the U.S. Manufacturing Summit (July 8). He said the Kettle Pizza oven that attaches to Weber grills, also sold at Wal-Mart caught his eye.

“It’s a great little invention. It comes complete with the stone and works with your Weber grill to create wood fired pizza in your own backyard,” he said. “And it’s made in Massachusetts.”

Foran also liked a 5-minute meat marinade container made in Erie, Penn. The plastic container comes with a pump that removes all the air from within the container and speeds up the marinating process to roughly five minutes.

“I also had the opportunity to meet Julie and Bill Swain and look at this safety dog vest that Julie first began stitching together in her garage. Its bright color keeps the pet safe and it repels ticks at the same time. We are excited to get this product (Dog Not Gone) in our stores soon,” Foran said.

Another innovative product coming soon to select Wal-Mart is a tuna pack processed in the U.S. by Fishpeople, an Oregon-based processor. Foran said 90% of the commercial fish caught in the U.S. today is shipped abroad for processing and then imported back. 

Seasoned albacore tuna caught off the coast of Oregon and processed there will feature a photo of the fisherman on the cover of the package. Foran said the new product provides better transparency on processed fish products which also should resonate with consumers. He said because the fish is processed in the U.S. the secondary fish products not used are sent to a pet food manufacturer in California that makes private label pet food for Wal-Mart.

“It’s transparent, made in the U.S. and sustainable which is makes it a great new find,” Foran said.

Michelle Gloecker, executive vice president of Walmart U.S. manufacturing, said one of her favorite finds in Tuesday’s Open Call was from Blamtastic of Atlanta. She said Blamtastic sold Wal-Mart its sunscreen lip balm last year. But the new pitch was for a spray-on sunblock. That is not a new item, but Wal-Mart merchants were impressed with the packaging of the spray-on sunblock because it allows the lip balm to snap easily into a slotted groove on the side to the can. 

“This packaging design means that consumers can easily have their sunblock and lip balm protector all together. The pump design sprays a very fine mist of sunblock and it has a great scent,” Gloeckler said.

Sam’s Club Chief Merchandising Officer Charles Redfield shared some of the new items Sam’s Club buyers recently signed up. He said the “better for you” health and wellness category is popular with consumers which is why buyers selected products from Austin, Texas-based Sassy Lassi at the recent Open Call. He said the yogurt packs are infused with live probiotic cultures from pasture feed cow milk with fruit or vegetable flavors.

“It’s a woman-owned business, it’s made in the U.S., and it’s good for you. We are excited to continue our talks with this company and get this product in our clubs,” Redfield said.

Redfield also mentioned a vertical gardening kit which is also popular with customers, particularly in urban areas. He said the kit was tagged by Sam’s Club buyers as an item they want to see in clubs early next year.

Walmart.com also had buyers at the recent Open Call and Michael Bender, chief operating office at Wal-Mart Global eCommerce, said one of his favorite finds at Tuesday’s event was a K’Nex build and blast toy that can shot foam darts up to 75 feet.

“When a product goes up on Walmart.com then anyone with an Internet connection around the world can purchase it. It has incredible reach. We can also move more quickly to get products on our site. The build and blast toy is being fast-tracked and will be on our site next week,” Bender said during his comments at the manufacturing summit.