Wal-Mart Debuts Supermercado

NEW YORK — Supermercado de Wal-Mart, the new Hispanic-focused food concept from Wal-Mart Stores, opened its first location in Houston last week, bringing what Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart, called the most dramatic expression of its recent efforts to improve fresh food merchandising. Speaking at the Barclay's Capital Retail and Restaurant Conference in New York, Castro-Wright said

NEW YORK — Supermercado de Wal-Mart, the new Hispanic-focused food concept from Wal-Mart Stores, opened its first location in Houston last week, bringing what Eduardo Castro-Wright, vice chairman of Wal-Mart, called “the most dramatic expression” of its recent efforts to improve fresh food merchandising.

Speaking at the Barclay's Capital Retail and Restaurant Conference in New York, Castro-Wright said the new store devotes more space to fresh items and an assortment suited for the store's target Hispanic consumer. “We decided that for this [format], fresh is important, and we're going to win fresh, and presenting it in a traditional environment was not going to be enough,” Castro-Wright said.

The 39,000-square-foot Supermercado de Wal-Mart, formerly a Neighborhood Market location, carries approximately 13,000 products, including a wide assortment of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables, and a bakery offering more than 40 traditional sweet breads and fresh corn tortillas, according to the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. The store's meat department features specialty meats such as milanesa, diezmillo, fajitas, chuleta de cerdo, carnes marinadas and arrachera, designed to meet the specific preferences of local Hispanic customers.

Castro-Wright said the Houston store is the first of “several” in the format planned by Wal-Mart, including at least one in the Phoenix market, as previously reported in SN. “We have great expectations for this,” he said.

Improved flair in fresh merchandising is just one aspect of an overall improvement in shopper experience at Wal-Mart stores that has the retailer on an upswing, Castro-Wright said in his remarks. The changes, he predicted, would help Wal-Mart hang onto the influx of new, wealthier shoppers it is receiving as the result of the recession.

According to Castro-Wright, 17% of Wal-Mart's store traffic growth — and 27% of its sales growth — in February came from new customers. These shoppers — 55% of which had incomes over $50,000 — had higher average tickets than Wal-Mart's typical shoppers.

“Those new customers are not changing their diet. So don't think they are buying more eggs. They are actually shopping for stuff at Wal-Mart that they might have shopped for elsewhere before,” Castro-Wright said. “Why are they doing that? It starts with the fact that we have a very clear merchandising strategy.”

Castro-Wright expressed some frustration that Wal-Mart hadn't received credit in the press or on Wall Street commensurate with its recent performance, particularly when compared to competitors.

“If I show some frustration today, you are going to have to forgive me because I live this every day and I look at my numbers and I try to make sense of them,” he said. “Are we not doing a good job in communicating our performance? Is that what is getting in the way of us getting some credit for what the customer is actually seeing?”