Wal-Mart announced their intentions this morning to make food healthier and to make healthy food affordable. Working with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, Wal-Mart will increase accessibility to healthy foods through lower prices, location of stores, and better nutrition in popular packaged items.
Making Packaged Food Healthier
Wal-Mart will reformulate packaged food items to be more nutritious over the next few years and make those food choices and other healthy foods more affordable. Andrea Thomas, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Wal-Mart, pointed out that this is not about making snacks healthier. Customers understand that ice cream and cookies are indulgent treats meant to be enjoyed in moderation.
The changes Wal-Mart is planning will begin with foods people eat as sustenance – the main part of family meals, rather than snacks or dessert foods. They’re starting with places that customers don’t expect to see a lot of salt or sugar, such as salad dressing, lunchmeat, yogurt, boxed dinners, frozen foods, and fruit drinks.
Specific goals will be to reduce sodium by 20%, reduce added sugars by 10%, and completely remove trans fats and hydrogenated oils. If these planned changes are adopted by everyone in the supply chain, Wal-Mart estimates that adults in the U.S. will consume 47 million pounds less of sodium each year.
Making Healthy Food Affordable
As part of making healthier choices more affordable, Wal-Mart plans to offer more savings on fresh produce and on “better for you” products. By making the entire supply chain more efficient, such as by reducing transportation costs through their “buy local” program, and also by reducing in-store costs, they estimate that Americans will save $1 billion per year on fresh produce compared to buying that same produce at other grocery stores.
Wal-Mart is also planning to develop strong criteria for a simple front-of-package seal. Andrea Thomas made the point that convenience is important and choosing healthy products is often inconvenient. A seal will make it easier to just grab the healthier product.
The front-of-package seal will apply to a small number of healthier products, so the value of the seal won’t be diluted by just slapping it on any ol’ processed packaged foodstuff. A seal for Great Value products will be launched this year.
Educating Customers About Healthy Choices
Wal-Mart plans to increase charitable support for nutrition programs educating their customers. They plan on putting programs together to help customers choose healthier foods and help them learn to cook meals. There will be continued outreach to community, by providing education on how to shop, cook, and eat healthier. They hope to give customers a clear example of what’s healthy, through meal suggestions and the front-of-package seal.
A big concern noted by Michelle Obama before has been food deserts – areas where people don’t have local access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Food deserts often occur in areas where people are unable to travel far to purchase groceries. Maybe they lack money to buy a car and have to shop within walking distance. Or maybe they work multiple shifts and don’t have time to drive to the a grocery store several miles away. Sometimes it’s just that fresh foods are too expensive for the neighborhood.
Wal-Mart plans to increase stores in underserved areas. As more people start eating healthier, healthy eating becomes more affordable. Their motto is “Save Money, Live Better” and they seem to be making some steps to make that true for people of all income levels.
Michelle Obama pointed out that when a big company like Wal-Mart makes a change like this, it affects how the suppliers and producers all along the line produce food. When it’s cheaper to supply fresh produce, more stores besides Wal-Mart will purchase that produce. Once suppliers are producing food with a lower sodium content, other stores will buy the lower-sodium product and their customers will also reap the benefits.
What Does Wal-Mart Get From This?
When asked what Wal-Mart gets out of this, President and CEO of Wal-Mart Bill Simon said that they hoped to attract more customers and thus sell more food. Low margins, low prices, and therefore higher volume of sales has been the standard for Wal-Mart since its inception. He drew a comparison with Wal-Mart’s 2006 generic prescription program. He didn’t believe Wal-Mart’s shareholders would necessarily see more money from this, but they wouldn’t see less.
With 140 million customers each week, Wal-Mart is in a good position to make a difference in health and foods. It would be great for the nutrition of a lot of families if Wal-Mart succeeds in this endeavor.
Image by oswaldo, used with Creative Commons license.