Walmart Open Call underway in Bentonville; flour mix, barbecue sauce get early deals

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,355 views 

More than 1,100 entrepreneurs, potential and current suppliers with products to pitch are in Bentonville this week for Walmart’s 9th annual Open Call. They hope to land a deal with Walmart and Sam’s Club merchants who will evaluate hundreds of products Wednesday (June 29).

Walmart has committed to spend $350 billion – a goal that can’t be independently verified – by 2031 sourcing products that are made, grown or assembled in the U.S. The commitment comes as Walmart already fulfilled the $250 billion pledged for the same cause in 2013.  Walmart said the new pledge will support 750,000 new U.S. jobs over the next 10 years.

Tony Waller, senior director of diversity relations at Walmart, congratulated the 1,100 attendees at the opening session on Tuesday afternoon (June 28).

“If you are in this room then you have made it through the first phase and beyond the 13,000 applicants who had hoped to make it. That ain’t no joke,” Waller said.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the event is one of his favorites each year as it’s like “Shark Tank” meets Bentonville. McMillon spotlighted one of his favorite new suppliers, Radius, who makes kids’ toothbrushes from recycled products. He said the company pitched last year at the virtual call and got a “yes.”

“Radius was a category first with sustainable kid’s oral care and the company is now developing an adult line of products as well,” McMillon said.

Sam’s Club CEO Kath McLay reminded attendees that when Sam Walton opened his first Sam’s Club in 1983, unemployment was rising and the economy was shaky. She said some might not have wanted to start a business. But Walton had a dream, saw an opportunity and took the chance anyway.

She said 85% of U.S. consumers say it’s important to buy American made products and with the supply chain disruptions of the past several years retailers of all sizes have worked to source products closer to home.

Textiles is one category that has been challenging to onshore but Walmart continues to work on this initiative. Sanal Kumar, founding chairman of Classic Fashion, said the company is based in Jordan but has worked with Walmart since 2015 to establish a U.S. design office. He pledged to open a U.S. manufacturing line and create 100 jobs to start, growing to 300 jobs over the next two years.

Classic Fashion employs 30,000 in 22 facilities in Jordan and India. Kumar began the company in Jordan in 2003 with 300 people. He said his plants employ more than 6,000 workers in rural areas. Walmart’s head of apparel Deanah Baker said Kumar is a true partner to Walmart and even though it will take several more years, she said the work to bring textile manufacturing back to the U.S. is worth it.

Actors Dax Sheppard and Kristin Bell, co-founders of Hello Bello baby line of products, were also in Bentonville. This past year Hello Bello opened a diaper manufacturing facility in Waco, Texas, after selling its 1 billionth diaper. The new plant created 200 manufacturing jobs. Sheppard said Hello Bello success was not a dream of the couple as they merely wanted to offer high quality, and sustainable baby items at an affordable price.

Bell said living in Los Angeles the couple had amazing choices for baby products for their own children. Her two sisters who live elsewhere did not have those same choices and it bothered her.

“We want everyone to have what we have. … Walmart helped to make Hello Bello scalable at a cost everyone can afford.,” she said.

Sheppard said Walmart’s merchant team was responsible for at least some of the items in the Hello Bello product line and their expertise has been key to the company’s success.

“Hello Bello does not exist without Walmart,” Sheppard said.

Three companies attending the Tuesday opening session event got instant deals to be fully announced on Thursday. Walmart merchants Ben Peterson, Kim Levitsky and Slade Farris each picked one item from the hundreds they screened for the event. The Spicy Salad Mix gardening kit, the Pitmaster LT Bar-B-Que sauce, and the Catrina’s Kitchen Southern Seasoned Flour mix got the green light and will work out the size of their deals on Thursday.

“We have lots more deals to make tomorrow and we will have a big checkbook,” Peterson said. “Good luck to everyone.”