Walmart Has A Not-So-Secret Food Lab To Develop New Products

Image courtesy of Nicholas Eckhart

What do frozen stuffed doughnut bites and prepared meals for the Paleo diet have in common? Not very much, other than they’re both coming to Walmart store shelves soon after being developed and tested in the mega-chain’s new test kitchens and sensory lab, which the company uses before launching new products from its suppliers.

The lab is in the company’s headquarters in Bentonville, AR, and the Associated Press paid a visit and told us what’s inside. The 10 test kitchens in the facility include a big fancy chef’s kitchen, kitchens that resemble more humble facilities that home cooks use, and also kitchens for testing new store-made products that are identical to the facilities in stores’ delis and bakeries.

The sensory labs are meant for company employees and customer volunteers to test new products before they hit shelves nationwide. (Our sibling publication, Consumer Reports, also has sensory lab and professional tasters, on whom we inflicted KFC’s Double Down six years ago, and new margarine formulas last year.)

Food is important to Walmart: about 56% of its sales come from Supercenter grocery and grocery-only Neighborhood Markets. House-brand products are an important part of that, too, to appeal to budget-conscious consumers and also keep suppliers on their toes.

A look at Wal-Mart’s food lab, aimed at developing new items [AP]