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Walmart pledges to make food healthier, more affordable
January 20th, 2011
06:40 PM ET

Walmart pledges to make food healthier, more affordable

The largest grocery chain in the country has announced an extensive five-year plan to make its food healthier and more affordable. Walmart, which serves roughly 140 million consumers a week, announced the initiative as a collaboration between its corporation and first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign.

"To more and more of our customers, living better means the ability to walk into our stores and find foods that will help their families live healthier lives," said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart. "And importantly, to find these foods at prices they can afford."

Saving money and living better do not always go together when it comes to food. Often highly processed foods rich in sodium, trans-fats, or added sugars are less expensive, and thus more affordable, than fresh produce. Access to healthy foods is also an issue; so-called "food deserts" exist throughout the country, leaving many Americans with minimal access to healthy fare.

Walmart says its multi-pronged plan addresses both problems. For instance, Walmart has identified "key product categories," or thousands of foods sold by both national manufacturers and Walmart's house brand, that the company says could be reformulated to be healthier. The goal is to reduce the sodium content in foods such as deli meats and salad dressing by 25 percent by 2015.

Added sugars in various sauces, fruit drinks, or dairy items will be reduced by 10 percent, while all trans-fats will be completely removed from packaged food items. The company hopes other food manufactuers will fall in line and adopt the same standards.

"If the reformulations are adopted by the entire grocery industry, adults in the U.S. will consume approximately 47 million fewer pounds of sodium each year," said Andrea Thomas, a senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart.

Walmart also wants to revise its supply chain to lower costs on healthy foods and ultimately make them more affordable. The company estimates it could save Americans $1 billion a year on fresh fruits and vegetables if its plans are successful.

"This is a step forward," said William K. Hallman, director of the Food Policy Institute at Rutgers University. "Walmart is a category leader so what Walmart does, lots of other companies will follow their lead."

"It's not just the people who shop at Walmart who would benefit from this, it's everybody."

To that end, Walmart's announcement has the potential to make a tremendous impact on America's collective waistline. As recently as last fall, an economics professor at the University of North Carolina Greensboro calculated that for every Supercenter that opened per 100,000 residents, the average BMI of the local population increased 0.24 units and the obesity rate jumped up by 2.3 percentage points.

"In a way, us finding what we did almost accentuates that what they're trying to do could have an impact in the other direction," said Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina Greenboro.

"Walmart is actually so large...they actually have the power to affect an individual's choices for good or for bad."

Courtemanche's paper will be published in the March issue of the Journal of Urban Economics.


soundoff (157 Responses)
  1. Forteaneye

    Lets start with removing ALL of the High Fructose Corn Syrup from the products. Thus is the #1 contributor to obesity, diabetes ans heart attack.
    And why are you people shopping at Walmart for food??Go to a real grocery store.

    January 21, 2011 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jimmy Cornhole

    No. Lets start by everyone minding their own business and let other enjoy what they enjoy.

    January 21, 2011 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Myself63

      Should they have to be at least a little bit accountable, if they receive food benefits (food stamps) or publicly-funded health insurance? Just asking your opinion.

      January 21, 2011 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
  3. decision factor

    This article comes to mind – http://healthland.time.com/2010/03/10/study-sin-taxes-promote-healthier-food-choices/#more-4204 , and I've also heard other commentary regarding similar studies.
    Conclusion is that decreasing the price of healthy food does not decrease the consumption of unhealthy food; increasing the cost of unhealthy food is necessary. Some trumpet that the government should not be interfering with the food marketplace by pressuring companies to push healthy food – but how we end the influence that current farm subsidies bring to the market?
    Another false assumption is that people act rationally in their own self interest. Try to apply that to the personal choices you see made around you every day – doesn't fit reality. People are irrational much of the time and decisions are not made in a vacuum, e.g. health vs. unhealthy food – life is all about compromise, with an especially big variable being the struggle between longterm vs. shortterm benefit.

    January 21, 2011 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • decision factor

      One of the other references I was thinking of: http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/2010_03_10/junk_food_tax
      Summary: "A study from the University of Buffalo found that if you lower the cost of healthy food, shoppers use the money they save to buy more chips and cookies."

      Also reference this link – http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/11/16/pm-how-much-does-healthy-eating-cost/

      January 21, 2011 at 09:32 | Report abuse |
  4. Lemmings

    I love how CNN chose to use a picture of a Walmart worker that is at least 5 years old. Walmart got rid of the Smiley and vests years ago (They wear dark blue polos now). Great job CNN. Here's the story from 2006 http://adweek.blogs.com/adfreak/2006/10/the_last_days_o.html

    January 21, 2011 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Patrick

    Saylorscreek

    For Pete's sake, leave people and their food alone and concentrate on more important things like jobs and a better standard of living. These numbers are statistically but not clinically different, and a 2 pound difference is well within the standard deviation. Stop listening to the people trying to manipulate you into or away from their products. I eat the same clean and natural food my ancestors did (which is NOT vegetables by the way, allergic to just about all– nor organic anything) and I have the best cholesterol in town.

    The best cholesterol in town eh? Wow, what did you win? You should take something for the diarrhea spewing out of your mouth. And you say concentrate on more important things? The food we ingest is very important. If that food is not of good quality, that's a problem. I'd like to know what your ancestors ate. What are you, amish?

    January 21, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rob

    While a lot of people may harbor a sort of hatred for Walmart and others disdain the idea of someone introducing healthier foods into the market, the fact of the matter is that, from a pragmatic perspective, this move will bring better food to lots of people who otherwise might not buy it. I used to live in a town that was dominated by a a duo of Walmarts along with a Super Walmart. Whether you like it or not, in many places those stores form a backbone of consumption. People go there because they have all sorts of stuff they need and are able to sell it at low prices because of gigantic volume. You might love your organic bell peppers and free range chickens, but not everyone can afford those products at your local Whole Foods. That particular weakness of the current "sustainable farming" paradigm is a whole other subject, but the point here is that bringing better foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, to more consumers is not a bad idea. America is drowning in our own fat and unhealthy habits. We need help. If Walmart can play a role in the transition to better foods, I'm all for it.

    For those people who cry "food police!" any time a company makes a move towards healthier options, remember that they are just that: options. Go down two aisles and you can still pack your cart full of all the Valentine's Day chocolates and Doritos you want. Giving people more choice in what they eat is a great plan. With better food available at lower prices, people who otherwise might see "healthy" food as too expensive could be opened to the market. Nobody is taking away your right to destroy your body. They're simply making it easier for those who care about how they live to make positive changes in their lives.

    NutritionPerfected.com/np-blog.html

    January 21, 2011 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. DandyStryker

    If the past is a guide to the future we can expect Walmart to offer the following:

    1) "Fresh" produce from sources outside the US, where EPA controls on pesticides and other chemicals don't "get in the way."

    2) "Fresh" US produce picked by illegal aliens that are paid less than the minimum wage by unscrupulous farmers that threaten to have them deported if they complain.

    3) "Fresh" produce from chemical-intensive factory farms in the US - the only ones that can operate on a razor-thin profit margin.

    Walmart is now "China Inc." Nearly everything in the store is made in China. This store is responsible for the loss of millions of high-paying US jobs. Walmart represents the "new America" where US workers live in poverty, selling cheap foreign junk to other impoverished workers.

    And on top of that, Walmart has *THE* worst customer service in the country.

    January 21, 2011 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TommyZ

      You are such a whining little girl...grow up.

      January 21, 2011 at 11:12 | Report abuse |
  8. sugar

    what about removing all the cancer causing agents like sodium nitrate? And genetically modified foods that are making our bodies make pesticides. Really look up "Monsanto GMO Round-up ready grain". Scary stuff! Wal-Martstinks mostly. They run small businesses out of business and them you are stuck with their selections unless you can afford to go to the natural stores or Earth Fare.

    January 21, 2011 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SomeGuy

      I believe the consumer who does the shopping in their household is responsible for the demise of their local ma and pa shops. The consumer (you and I) dictate where we spend our money. W-M, Costco, Target, etc... don't go boarding up stores, the consumer spending does. Take a reality pill and understand what is happening.

      January 21, 2011 at 11:08 | Report abuse |
  9. pammie85

    the funny thing is Michelle Obama was doing a press conference for this new "healthy" move in conjunction with Walmart - but that night the State Dinner for the Chinese leader contained over 2,400 calories (in ONE MEAL) -- OMG talk about hypocrite! even if the White House chefs used "hormone free" meat and fresh veggies from the WH garden, eating more than one day's recommended caloric intake in a single meal is NOT HEALTHY. Let's start by trying to lead by example Michelle!

    January 21, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Runner

      I would like to point out that eating more than the recommended caloric intake in one day is only bad for you if you don't burn it off later. In fact, there are instances where you NEED to eat more than the recommended 2000 calories because of the physical activities in which you are participating because you use so much energy.
      While I don't know whether Mrs. Obama actually DID burn off the excess calories (and rather suspect she didn't), I just wanted to correct that point.

      January 21, 2011 at 23:02 | Report abuse |
  10. Walmart LOVER

    For all you malcontents and stooges who hate WalMart all you have to do is shop elsewhere or are you people too STUPID to understand? I love shopping there for the basics...Tpaste/paper, meds, underpants, some groceries and intend on doing my part to insure WALMART is with us for a very long time.

    Too bad.
    So sad.
    *POOT* in you losers faces!!

    January 21, 2011 at 11:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. AnnieM

    I shop at Aldi. Their "Fit & Active" line is better than "healthy" anything (name brand included) at Walmart at 1/2 the price. Besides, as long as you make most of your food from "scratch" instead of using prepared items whose flavor depends on salt, sugar and fat, it should be a non-issue.

    January 21, 2011 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bree

    Good for them. We need to take more steps forward. Anything, however small, helps. And while this change alone won't cure the obesity epidemic, it is certainly a start that will reach many people.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Greg

    Overall, Americans are fat...the fattest by far that the country has ever been. It's a kind of abuse in a country of shared health care. People who take care of themselves have to support through insurance premiums people who trash their bodies with trashy food. Rich or poor alike, it's a choice. Organic, healthy food is not expensive if you prep the meals yourself. Buy seasonal whenever possible since food in season has a higher nutritional content. Fertilizers have leeched the minerals from our soil so our food is not has healthy as it was 60-70 years ago–from that standpoint, I am a believer in organic farming methods that sustain the viability of the soil without relying upon short-term boosters (that though effective, damage the quality of the soil).

    January 21, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. John Van Ness

    If Walmart wanted to do something about healthy food , they might stop the junk they push in their own aisles every day.

    High salt , free and alittle more salt . Talk about impulse buying and conflict in their message.

    As sweet Nanct Regan used to say , Just say no ! Actually it would be nicer to say : Thank you but no. Now get out of my aisle please.

    JVN Kentucky

    January 21, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jerry

    People should just stop buying the boxed, packaged, processed foods. Fresh veggies, fresh fruit, lean, organic meats. Cut out the grains. Does it cost more? Yes. But your body will be healthy and look amazing.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. brian

    Mrs. Michelle Obama, How about having 50 million of people on welfare and food stamp use 1/3 of their money to buy real food, such as vegetable and fruit, instead of on junk food?

    January 21, 2011 at 12:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • A. Goodwin

      Michelle Obama cannot change the welfare system. She is, however, doing a great job at promoting healthy eating and promoting it in areas of our country that do rely on welfare heavily.

      January 21, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
  17. A. Goodwin

    This is great news for my family. We shop Walmart, but many times have to buy our meats and actual produce from other more expensive stores in my area. I have a son with epilepsy who is currently on the ketogenic diet. I really dont want all his meats to come from the ONLY 4 meat processing plants in America. It would be fantasic if Walmart actually went to local, smaller farmers of grassfed animals for their organic meats. Right now we buy their organic/cage free eggs, and they are just as good ad Nellie's and other brands. In a perfect world I could afford food from someplace other than Walmart – but this is not a perfect world.

    January 21, 2011 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Andy

    Great, now I'm going to have to add my own salt to my potato chips

    January 21, 2011 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. R A Williams

    Are people going to actually buy the healthier, lower fat, lower calorie alternatives if they aren't doing it already?

    I rent a room to a tenant who spends more than I do on food (he can afford to because he's mildly disabled and on the SNAP program). He buys the greasiest, saltiest, most heavily sugared options available even when healthier options are available for the same price. Then he adds extra sweetener because it's still not sweet enough for him. At the moment he's got five cartons of fresh milk in the fridge: whole milk, two gallons of chocolate milk, and half-and-half. Most of it will go bad before he uses it. Since price is no object, he gets single-serving dessert cups and eats four at a time. He's not even that overweight because he's got the kind of metabolism where he can burn off just about everything he eats just by sitting in front of the TV. He's not slender and I wouldn't call him healthy, but he's not obese either. I fail to see how offering healthier items will change his eating habits in the slightest, since when he has the option of buying a healthier alternative at the same price and the same convenience level, he already chooses not to.

    On the other hand, I was a part-time caregiver for a woman with a serious brain injury after having been a victim or a crime. She too was on the SNAP program and walked everywhere, including to and from the grocery store, because she did not own a car and her injury took away her short-term memory and made it impossible for her to drive. Her SNAP benefit was substantially lower than my tenant's because she did not have car related expenses, but she ate more healthily than most people I've met. Since she disliked red meat she ate mostly fresh vegetables, fruit in season, whole-grain bread, a baked potato nearly every day, and frozen chicken breast. She loved cheese, and her treat of choice was a twelve-pack of Coke every month. Not store brand: she knew she could have the store brand on a daily basis but preferred to have a bigger treat less often. At the end of the month she usually had a couple bucks left over so she would try some new sauce or seasoning. I fail to see how offering healthier processed products would change her buying habits in the least. I once asked her why she buys what she buys, and she said: "Because that's what I ate growing up, so it's what I like now."

    January 21, 2011 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Staceyann Dolenti

    I don't normally shop at Walmart. However, I will consider making the effort now that they are making an effort to do the right thing.

    Staceyann C Dolenti

    January 21, 2011 at 14:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Carrie

    I shop at WalMart because it's what I can afford as a single parent and I still have lost weight. It's all in the choices you make while there! Sure, not everything is healthy but just like any other grocery store, stick mostly to the outside perimeter of the store. Anyone can shop anywhere and make healthier choices...it's all about the CHOICES you make! We have control over our destiny if we CHOOSE to do so!

    January 21, 2011 at 15:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Greg

    I read this article here http://www.fourgreensteps.com/infozone/ and wanted to come to the source to comment. With wal-marts huge power over their suppliers, I don't doubt that they will be able to strong arm them into making foods a little bit healthier, whether this is a real change or just a marketing campaign will determine if this mandate has real effect.

    January 21, 2011 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. NoDoubt

    I see the future, and the future is Soilent Green.

    January 21, 2011 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Odalice yolanda feliz

    I'm so glad Walmart is helping out our community, and those who can't afford a good balance meal.

    January 21, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Thing

    The secret to losing weight:

    eat less.

    January 21, 2011 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Bad Patient

    Does that mean that Walmart will be like Costco and get their broccoli from China too? what about california?

    most of the food i saw in walmart was pretty poor quality food.

    January 22, 2011 at 02:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Jean

    It's a good beginning. Dairy products need lower sodium, too. Have you looked at the sodium in cottage cheese, or most regular cheese? Also, I do hope Walmart is planning to carry lower sodium, lower fat, etc . . . name brand items. I prefer name brand, not Walmart's house brands.

    January 22, 2011 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Granite Sentry

    A modest proposal: Fight obesity from the supply side with new FDA food safety rules. Food prices up, overeating down. A win-win situation. A post at http://www.granitesentry.com.

    January 24, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Pete

    Very smart business plan. Keeping their customers alive longer will equate to more profit in the future. It will also save them money and space by not having to have all the electric wheel chairs. I'm sure if they kept up the unhealthy foods the amount of electric chairs would triple eventually.

    January 26, 2011 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Zahra

    It is very excellent idea that Walmart be able to reduce salt and suger by 2015 to decrease the obesity in USA. Walmart will encourage the other producers to do the same thing.

    February 3, 2011 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Firstname

    The company hopes other food manufactuers will fall in line and adopt the same standards. Lets start by everyone minding their own business and let other enjoy what they enjoy. Stop listening to the people trying to manipulate you into or away from their products. I used to live in a town that was dominated by a a duo of Walmarts along with a Super Walmart. People go there because they have all sorts of stuff they need and are able to sell it at low prices because of gigantic volume. America is drowning in our own fat and unhealthy habits. Giving people more choice in what they eat is a great plan. Nobody is taking away your right to destroy your body. They run small businesses out of business and them you are stuck with their selections unless you can afford to go to the natural stores or Earth Fare. Take a reality pill and understand what is happening. We need to take more steps forward.the fattest by far that the country has ever been. People who take care of themselves have to support through insurance premiums people who trash their bodies with trashy food. Buy seasonal whenever possible since food in season has a higher nutritional content. Talk about impulse buying and conflict in their message. Now get out of my aisle please. But your body will be healthy and look amazing. I have a son with epilepsy who is currently on the ketogenic diet. Most of it will go bad before he uses it. At the end of the month she usually had a couple bucks left over so she would try some new sauce or seasoning. I fail to see how offering healthier processed products would change her buying habits in the least. Anyone can shop anywhere and make healthier choices. It will also save them money and space by not having to have all the electric wheel chairs. Walmart will encourage the other producers to do the same thing.http://download.cnet.com/Family-Tree-Genius/3000-2127_4-75452322.html

    August 25, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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