Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wal-Mart pushes for healthier food

Hope every grocer will follow their lead.




According to Time Magazine (Healthland), the world's biggest grocer, Wal-Mart, plans to revamp its store brands by reducing their sodium and sugar content and encourage suppliers to do the same.

Part of their plans also is to reduce prices of produce and build stores in poor areas who still don't have access to grocery stores.


"This is a game changer," said Michael Hicks, associate professor of economics at Ball State University and author of a book on Wal-Mart's economic impact. "If Wal-Mart could reduce the prices on healthy food and provide access to them in more places, you could have a measurable effect on incidences of diabetes and heart-related ailments."

US First Lady Michelle Obama was impressed with this bold move by Wal-Mart and said Wal-Mart's plans have "the potential to transform the marketplace and help Americans put healthier foods on their tables every single day." She lent star power to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. executives as they announced the effort in Washington as part of her campaign against obesity.


To start, the company plans to concentrate on products like lunch meats, fruit juices and salad dressings that are high in sugar or sodium that consumers don't realize they're consuming.

Besides the changes to its products, Wal-Mart said it would reduce prices on fruits and vegetables by $1 billion a year by attempting to cut unnecessary costs from the supply chain. The company also said it would work to reduce prices on healthier items made with more expensive ingredients.

"Our customers often ask us why whole wheat pasta sometimes costs more than regular pasta made by the same manufacturer," said Andrea Thomas, Wal-Mart's senior vice president of sustainability.

Wal-Mart officials acknowledged that it will take time for suppliers to reformulate some of the foods and make sure they still taste good.

Wal-Mart said it plans to track its suppliers' improvements in making food more healthy, using the year 2008 as a baseline. Vendors that have already made some inroads will get credit for their work, but the objective is to meet the target reductions in what people are buying.

Less clear is whether the food initiative will help Wal-Mart persuade reluctant cities to let it expand. Wal-Mart executives have noted that city officials have seemed more willing in recent months as they look for ways to create jobs.

Leslie Dach, executive vice president for corporate affairs and government relations, told the group that Wal-Mart's commitment to healthier food will be another asset the retailer can bring to the table.

But Brian Sozzi, an analyst with Wall Street Strategies, isn't sure.

"This can't hurt them, but Wal-Mart still has a stigma," he said. Lowering prices on whole wheat pizza, he says, is "not going to put them over the edge in New York."

Source: http://healthland.time.com/2011/01/21/wal-mart-gives-boost-to-push-for-healthier-food/#ixzz1BkYXu3Gp

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