Walmart Announces Plan to Promote Healthy Foods

walmart nutrition photo

Image: Walmart

With Michelle Obama there to applaud and promote the effort, Walmart announced a plan this morning to bolster healthy foods by reducing the sugar, sodium and fat content in its packaged foods, lowering fruit and vegetable prices, working with suppliers to lower prices of healthier products, and fighting food deserts around the country.There are five key points to how Walmart will execute the plan:

1. Reformulate thousands (no exact number yet) of packaged foods by 2015 to contain 25 percent less sodium, 10 percent less sugar, and no trans fats. Walmart said it "will work with suppliers to improve the nutritional quality of national food brands and its Great Value private brand in key product categories to complete the reformulations."

2. Make healthier choices more affordable. "No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. The company expects customers to save about $1 billion a year on fresh fruits and vegetables "through a variety of sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives that will drive unnecessary costs out of the supply chain."

Asked how Walmart would continue to lower prices when its prices are already so low, the company said it's hoping that by increasing the affordability of its products, it will increase customer traffic and compensate for any losses that way. Lower prices, in theory, shouldn't be a result of paying farmers less. Walmart's executive vice president for corporate affairs Leslie Dach said, "This is not about asking the farmers to accept less for their crops."

Walmart will also work to eliminate the price premium that tends to exist on "better-for-you" items. The example this morning was whole wheat pasta compared with white—why should it cost more?

(No plans yet, though, to extend the cost-lowering efforts to organic produce.)

3. Develop a packaging label applied only on foods that meet a set of healthy criteria, to help consumers recognize healthier food options instantly (rather than trusting food brands' own labels, which are often misleading).

4. Build stores in underserved communities as a way to combat food deserts.

5. Increase charitable support for nutrition programs that help educate consumers about healthier food solutions and choices.

All told, these changes will really add up. Simon said, "With more than 140 million customer visits each week, Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone."

Walmart partnered with a number of nutrition experts in designing this program, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Michelle Obama has been vocal about her support.

"When big companies like Walmart make changes like this, that doesn't just affect the food sold in Walmart. It affects the products that suppliers make and sell in grocery stores all across this country," she said this morning. "So parents haven't just changed how Walmart does business; they're actually changing how the entire food industry does business."

The New York Times quotes Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director. "A number of companies have said they are going to make voluntary reductions in sodium over the next several years... But Wal-Mart is in a position almost like the Food and Drug Administration. I think it really pushes the food industry in the right direction."

More on Walmart:
WalMart: 20 Million Tons of Carbon Emissions Down, Many Human Rights To Go..
Wal-Mart: The Next Steps Toward Sustainability
Walmart's Newest Sustainability Initiative Focuses on Local Produce, Small Farmers
Walmart Gives $2 Million to Help Food Banks Go Green

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