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Food in focus at Walmart's new culinary center

Food in focus at Walmart's new culinary center

Wal-Mart Stores is supporting a heightened focus on foods with the opening of a new Culinary & Innovation Center where new branded and private label products will be tested, tasted and developed.

Company officials unveiled the 12,000-square-foot facility in an event for media Thursday evening which included a range of new fresh and packaged product introductions and an appearance by celebrity chef Robert Irvine, whose brand will launch at company stores later this year.

A sampling of the Culinary Center's new products.
A sampling of the Culinary Center's new products.

New products ranged from the indulgent and questionably healthful (Fried Hostess Twinkies and a half-pound frozen breakfast sandwiches under the Great Value Big Burly label) to distinctive label exclusives (Trouble Brewing Co. beers), and high-end cheeses and charcuterie.

Kerry Robinson, VP for deli and bakery at Walmart U.S., said the company's new high-end offerings provide convenient and affordable options for occasion-based shoppers and are building credibility off improvements in everyday quality of foods and food presentation at the retailer. 

"If you can provide good core quality, that gives you permission to premiumize," Robinson told SN.

Many of the new products showcased at the center reflect exclusive arrangements with suppliers, such as a new line of meal-kit items under the Street Kitchen label produced in partnership with an Australian-based supplier. Street Kitchen is a line of 20 easy meal packages including pre-measured spices and marinades for three-step preparation. Customers simply add a protein or vegetables as directed.

The flavors (ancho chile and lime tacos, kung pao chicken, Malaysian satay chicken and Moroccan lemon chicken) aim to evoke global "street food" cuisines, Ryan Isabel, a dry grocer buyer for Walmart, told SN.

"This is unique because its something that can drive people to center store again. It's unique and exciting. It delivers across any number of demographics, like Millenials who are looking for the next new thing, and it's clean-label," Isabel told SN

Street Kitchen items, which will be merchandised near packaged meal kits like Hamburger Helper and macaroni and cheese kits in stores, will retail for $2.50, Isabel said.

"It really  boils down to us leveraging a global supply base," he said. "This is something we can do that our competitors cannot do."

Walmart's Great Value and Great Value Organic private label lines are at the center of a number of new offerings. The latter brand, which will have more than 100 items in stores by the end of July, is more affordable than competitive brands, said Marelena Bond, senior director of dry grocery private brands for Walmart. Walmart phased out the Wild Oats organic line earlier this year.

"We know customers are seeking healthier products," Bond told SN, "and we're working very closely with suppliers to make sure we meet all the USDA organic standards. We feel really good about the flavors and the performance and the delivery of these products and think that the customer once tghey try them will have a really positive experience."

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