Walmart green lights 100 new products during Open Call

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 2,226 views 

Fort Smith Popcorn Company, owned by Casey Millspaugh (right), is being evaluated by a Walmart popcorn buyer at the retail giant’s recent Open Call.

Cass and Estelle Rowland drove their 40-foot motorhome 20-plus hours from Thorndale, Penn., to Bentonville and slept in Walmart’s Home Office parking lot Tuesday night (June 12). They did not want to be late for the retail giant’s Open Call.

The Open Call began at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The couple couldn’t sleep. They were shopping in Walmart Store No. 100 at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.

“We were just keyed up for this big opportunity,” Cass Rowland said.

The Rowlands presented their Big Boize Bbq Sauce to a condiment buyer early Wednesday afternoon. The couple said the sauce two distinct flavors depending on if it’s served hot or at room temperature. They served up Walmart Great Value toasted corn chips using the sauce as a dip. They also had fried chicken strips with some of the heated dipping sauce for the buyer to taste.

“It just went so fast, we got the sauce ready and she tasted it and liked it. We told her how we looked all over Pennsylvania for barbecue sauce that tastes like what we grew up eating in North Carolina. Cass finally resorted to making his own and every time we served it to friends they wanted to know where they could buy it,” Estelle Rowland said.

The couple spent about two years perfecting the flavor and reached out to a nearby co-packer to make the sauce for them. The couple then began peddling the sauce at farmers markets and selling directly to barbecue taverns and smaller specialty food stores. Cass, who works as a locksmith and pastor, said his brother convinced him to pitch their sauces to Walmart during the Open Call event.

“We got the invite to come and present, so here we are,” he told Talk Business & Politics. “We got the congratulations card from the buyer and look forward to working with Walmart over the next several months to get the product in stores in Pennsylvania to start. It’s good for us to start small and we know what the market demand is there for the product. Over the next two weeks we expect to hammer out some of the details,” Estelle said.

The couple said they plan to sell it for $7.99 a bottle which is doable for them and still gives Walmart a price advantage over Amazon.

Roberto Cancel and Patrick Thompson with House of Webster in Rogers struck a deal to get Webster products into Walmart stores.

The Rowlands were among more than 100 business owners to receive a congratulations card which moves their product closer to Walmart store shelves. Rogers-based House of Webster also got the nod to do business with Walmart during their meeting on Wednesday. Sales execs Patrick Thompson and Robert Cancel of House of Webster said they pitched condiments and finishing sauces that could be sold in Walmart’s meal kits on a wholesale basis. But the buyer was also interested in them selling sauces and condiments in the deli retail section.

Thompson said over the years House of Webster has sold a few things in Walmart and it’s also co-packer for other brands sold into retailer, but this is first direct deal in many years.

In all there were more than 450 business owners and some 750 meetings with buyers on Wednesday. Many of the entrepreneurs had more than one meeting.

“We made this commitment five years ago as a way of accomplishing a few goals – building trust with our customers, investing in the communities we serve, and offering new and innovative products for shoppers,” said Cindi Marsiglio, Walmart vice president for merchandising services and U.S. manufacturing. “We are halfway through our ten year commitment, and we are pleased with our progress. We have seen factories reopened and jobs created.”

She said one her favorite items presented Wednesday was the “Treatie,” a small device that attaches to a smart phone and holds a dog treat to allow pet owners to capture the dog’s attention long enough to take their photo – a selfie – with the family pet. The Treatie is made by Tailor Made Products, already a supplier to Walmart making the retailer’s private brand kitchen utensils. Marsiglio said they are not in the pet business but someone there had the idea to make this so they did and Open Call gave them an opportunity to pitch it.

“I can see a couple of (Walmart) buyers competing hard to get this unique item. It could go in pets or it could go in the photo accessory area,” Marsiglio told Talk Business & Politics.

Roughly one-quarter of the businesses presenting items were deemed ready to do business with Walmart and had items buyer teams believe will sell if they get on store shelves. That said, the timeframe from getting an item on shelves can take a year with the average being about 10 months. Walmart made it clear to the businesses presenting at Open Call if they got a congratulations card from the buyer that was just the first step of many needed to get to the shelves.

Isaac Cruz of Irvine, Calif, pitched his Zombie bait, a liquid pump spray, that when applied to fishing lures attracts certain fish. Cruz’s company, King Pacific Corp., is already selling the product in 72 bait and tackle shops including one in Green Forest, Ark. At $5.99 he said the product is perfect for mainstream retail. He was told the retailer will be back in touch with him to begin the process of getting in some stores on the west coast. Cruz is hoping that will also include a few in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma which which he says are where the majority of his online and store sales originate.

“I plan to listen and learn all I can from the Walmart buyer team. They told me to discard the shrink wrapping because the product is greener without it. I am so grateful for this opportunity for our small company and I’m literally shaking from this experience,” he said just after his buyer meeting.

All of those presenting shelf-stable products were given the opportunity to list and sell their items on Walmart.com. This is the third year Walmart has offered this during Open Call. Walmart said for those business owners who might not have gotten the card to advance this year doesn’t mean “No” forever.

Casey Millspaugh, owner of Fort Smith-based Fort Smith Popcorn Company, was among those presenting to Walmart buyers Wednesday. Millspaugh said he received good feedback and there could be opportunities to work with Walmart on seasonal popcorn flavors in tins if the cost structure can be worked to everyone’s benefit. He was referred to another buyer and hopes to get more feedback on steps needed to secure retail shelf space.

“I told them all I would be back next year and they encouraged me to do the work and come back,” Millspaugh said.

Following are other products moving closer to landing on Walmart shelf.
BodyLove Naturals, Rogers, Ark. – Natural skincare products
Ahssa Foods LLC, Mesa, Ariz. – Low-fat gourmet sauces
KC Pharmaceuticals, Pomona, Calif. – Over-the-counter eye care products
Mame’s Burrito Company, Denver, Colo. – Organic breakfast burritos
The Honeypot Company LLC, Atlanta, Ga. – Plant-based feminine wash
Naturalicious, Detroit, Mich. – Natural haircare products
The Perfect Granola, Rochester, N.Y. – Naturally sweetened granola bars
Boxtown Team, Tulsa, Okla. – Convenient ladder carrier
The Cumberland Companies, Knoxville, Tenn. – Fog-free shaving mirror
YUMIX LLC, Dallas – Ready-to-drink cocktail mix
Shoe Crazy, Chesterfield, Va. – Unique wine blends
iLids, Seattle, Wash. – Reusable mason jar lids
Holsum de Puerto Rico, Toa Baja, Puerto Rico – Deliciosas Vanilla Crème Sandwich Cookies

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