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Oh Goodies: Wal-Mart Goes Mail-Order Gourmet

Wal-Mart is throwing its hat in the gourmet food ring just in time for the holidays this year. Wednesday, the megastore company launched a monthly food subscription service that sends customers a sampling of novel food products each month.

Here's how the service, called Goodies, works: For $7, customers sign up to receive six to eight food products "ranging from healthy and organic to artisan and ethnic." November's theme is "Easy Entertaining," and the box includes pumpkin pie spice tea, dark quinoa chocolate bars, Biscoff smooth spread, cheddar popcorn, flourless chocolate souffle mix, nuts and wine cookies.

All signs suggest the service, which comes out of the WalmartLabs research division, is an attempt to attract adventurous foodies who typically snub the retailer. "With Goodies Co., subscribers have the pleasure of opening a box filled with delicious treats every month that they like or may never have tried before," Ravi Raj, WalmartLabs' vice president of products, said in a statement.

Several startups have paved the way with such "discovery commerce" strategies — like Birchbox, a beauty product startup that sends subscribers a box of sample-size beauty products each month. Tech Crunch notes that Wal-Mart may steal the spotlight in the food sector with its cheaper service — most other food service startups charge between $10 and $27 for boxes for eight to 13 gourmet or health food items.

Wal-Mart also hopes Goodies clientele will get busy chatting about the products online. "The whole social aspect of this is critical," Raj told Fast Company. "This is a two-way dialogue. It isn't about us sending products and you just getting and eating them."

The program has been in trial mode for the past three months, and some of the 3,000 volunteers have already started the food conversation with product reviews and ratings on the Goodies site. It's a source of retail data for the food companies and may also determine whether their product ends up on a Wal-Mart shelf in the near future.

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