January 20, 2011
On Thursday, January 20, Wal-Mart executives joined First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, D.C. to announce the launch of a new five-year initiative to provide Wal-Mart customers with healthier, more affordable food options. The industry giant plans to reduce the prices of its fruits and vegetables and lower the amount of fats, sugars and salts in the food it sells in a campaign to improve public health.
Wal-Mart plans to reformulate thousands of products in its private Great Value brand and collaborate with suppliers to reformulate similar products to create healthier options for consumers. According to the company’s press release, Wal-Mart will also develop new front-of-package labels to help make healthy foods easier to identify on the shelf. The company also reiterated its commitment to increase expansion in “food deserts” – areas without easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables – including up to four new branches in Washington, D.C.
Neither the White House or Walmart releases indicate what the price reduction effort will mean to the farmer or other parts of the food supply chain. The Walmart release notes it will use “sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives that will drive unnecessary costs out of the supply chain.” The company goes on to say “We will use our size and scale to reduce the price premium on these types of products whenever possible because customers shouldn’t have to pay more to eat healthier.”
The five-year plan developed out of talks with First Lady Michelle Obama, who has championed child nutrition and obesity issues through her “Let’s Move” campaign. Mrs. Obama praised the new initiative, calling it a “huge victory” for parents and children. “When 140 million people a week are shopping at Walmart, then day by day and meal by meal all these small changes can start to make a big difference for our children’s health,” she said.
The first lady’s endorsement marks a reversal of the Obamas’ previous relations with the retail giant. During the 2008 election campaign, Michelle Obama resigned from the board of a Walmart supplier after then-Senator Obama criticized its anti-union policies, saying he would never shop at the store.