Photo credit: Walmart Stores/Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Andrea Thomas, Walmart senior vice president of sustainability.
Eating healthier is something everyone wants to do, but few of us have figured out how to do it. At Walmart, our customers have told us they are overwhelmed with choices in the grocery store and don't have time to research product marketing claims. Likewise, the old dietary food pyramid often added to the confusion, leaving people to make their best guesses and figure it out on their own. Now, that's all changing. Earlier this year, with the support of the White House, Walmart launched a healthier food initiative to help customers make more informed decisions about the food they buy. Also, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently took steps to make good nutrition easier to understand with its new healthy food plate icon, which helps illustrate the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables as recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
We continue to see that customers want fresh, affordable groceries and need information that will help them make healthier food choices. The USDA's new icon and educational campaign is one tool our customers can use to help them make better choices for themselves and their families. At Walmart, we intend to provide the healthier options Americans want, and we believe doing this can make a positive impact on the food industry.
With more than 140 million customer visits each week, we have an opportunity to make a real difference in the nutritional quality of the food we sell, so we have a long-term goal to make food healthier and make healthier food more affordable.
First, we are reformulating thousands of our private brand packaged food items and working with branded products to do the same. By 2015, we will:
- reduce sodium by 25%
- reduce added sugars by 10%
- remove all remaining industrially produced trans fats in our packaged food.
This isn't about cookies or ice cream; customers know those are indulgent treats. This effort focuses on products that customers don't expect to be high in sugar or sodium, like yogurt, canned fruit or pasta sauce. We estimate that if the entire grocery industry adopts these new formulations, adults in America will consume about 47 million fewer pounds of sodium each year, or the equivalent of the entire sodium intake by every resident of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago per year.
Next, we're making healthier choices more affordable by providing more savings on fresh produce and reducing or removing the price premium on "better-for-you" items. For example, customers asked us why whole wheat pasta was more expensive than regular pasta made by the same manufacturer, and we realized there shouldn't be a significant price difference. We worked with that supplier to remove the price premium, and now we're seeing similar progress across other categories.
We're also working to lower prices on fresh fruits and vegetables, and one of the ways we are doing this is by sourcing more items locally. We save a significant amount of money on shipping and waste when we source closer to our stores instead of shipping produce thousands of miles from a large grower. By saving on freight costs and waste resulting from damaged produce that has traveled a long distance, we're actually able to pay local farmers more, increasing their income, and pass our savings on to our customers by offering fresher products at a lower price. Through this and other efficiencies, we believe we can save our customers about $1 billion a year on fresh produce.
All of this is great, but if customers don't have the tools to make more informed decisions, we haven't accomplished our goal. So we're working on a front-of-package icon to help customers immediately identify a healthier product. We're making significant progress on the nutrition criteria and icon design and will introduce it in stores by the end of this year. We know people are busy, and they don't have time to read every nutrition label. We're hopeful that a simple icon will help make those choices easier to identify and help them save time in our stores.
Reformulating packaged food, creating a front-of-pack icon and lowering prices on produce and other items won't be easy. It's a coordinated effort to balance a lot of information and detail. We are encouraged by the feedback we're already hearing from our suppliers, and this is an opportunity for new and existing suppliers to grow their business. We're confident that with the help of our partners, we will have an impact beyond our own four walls as suppliers make these better-for-you products available to other food retailers as well.