- Walmart has begun selling a cantaloupe that is 40% sweeter than conventional varieties at 200 stores nationwide, according to the Los Angeles Times. The retailer developed “The Sweet Spark" melon in partnership with German seed company Bayer.
- A desire for consistently flavorful cantaloupe across seasons inspired the company to develop the “designer” fruit. Walmart spent two years developing The Sweet Spark with Bayer, and tested 20 different seeds along with 150 different names.
- More grocery retailers are developing exclusive produce varieties in an attempt to stand out from the competition. In Europe, the practice is widespread, where fruit growers forge exclusive contracts to sell their unique varieties.
There’s been a lot of news lately about Walmart’s push for lower prices, but the world’s largest retailer also is trying to increase its “fresh” appeal in stores. The company has remodeled many of its locations to focus on perimeter departments and has steadily increased its supply of local produce during the past decade.
This move makes progress toward Walmart’s fresh mission. However, the real value of The Sweet Spark is that it’s a product the retailer’s competitors don’t have.
Finding points of differentiation has been a focus for the retailer of late. Walmart has partnered with Hostess to debut Deep Fried Twinkies, a frozen creation that resulted from a year-long collaboration between the two companies, and is the only retailer to carry Oreo's new Jelly Donut Oreo cookie. The company actively seeks out locally sourced grocery and nonfood products. Its club-store arm, Sam’s Club, also runs a traveling “Road Show” that brings small-scale, emerging brands to stores across the country.
A designer cantaloupe may seem like an odd choice for the company to spend so much time and money developing, but according to agriculture experts interviewed by the Times, the hardy fruit holds up well during shipping and on shelves. In addition, it's a popular fruit among shoppers.
The two years and numerous trials it took Bayer and Walmart to final bring The Sweet Spark to market show just how rigorous — and labor intensive — it is to bring fresh products to a retailer of this size. There are a lot of moving parts involved, but the payoff can be significant if done right.
Could this be a signal that Walmart will develop more novelty produce for its stores? It’s certainly possible in key categories, particularly for products such as the cantaloupe that are slow sellers during the fall and winter seasons. Ultimately, this counts as another weapon in the retailer’s arsenal as it squares off against Aldi, Lidl and an even more threatening Amazon.