Walmart on a Diet

Posted Jan. 27, 2011, at 8:46 p.m.

The world’s largest retailer, Walmart, which operates grocery stores around the country along with its department stores, has announced its intention to make healthful food more accessible and affordable. Because of its size, this bodes well for the health of the country.

Michelle Obama, who has made healthful eating a priority in her agenda as first lady, was at a recent news conference at which Walmart announced its five-year healthful food initiatives. “I remember standing in aisle after aisle in the grocery store,” Mrs. Obama said, “searching high and low for the best options for my family, feeling so frustrated by how the healthy choice wasn’t necessarily the affordable choice.”

Walmart will begin to push its suppliers to reduce salt and added sugars in the food it provides the chain store. It also will work to reduce the cost of healthful foods, which, as Mrs. Obama noted, sometimes are more expensive than their fattening alternatives. Walmart is working to develop rela-tionships with farmers to reduce prices, potentially saving American consumers $1 billion each year on fresh fruits and vegetables, according to its corporate website.

Even more dramatic is Walmart’s plan to present and label its healthful food to make it more appealing to consumers perusing choices on the shelves.

Having Walmart on board for pushing foods that combat the national obesity plague represents the turning of the tide. It is the beginning of the return on public-sector efforts to educate the public about the benefits of eating better, the point at which the private sector recognizes that such moves are altruistically good, and good for the bottom line.

“When big companies like Walmart make changes like this, that doesn’t just affect the food sold in Walmart,” Mrs. Obama said. “It affects the products that suppliers make and sell in grocery stores all across this country.” In other words, suppliers will meet Walmart’s now-higher standards, and provide the same for other customers.

While critics may suggest Walmart is caving in to the nags of the nanny state, Mrs. Obama has a reply that makes sense: “It’s not about government telling people what to do. It’s about each of us in our own families, in our communities, standing up and demanding more for our kids. And it’s about companies like Walmart answering that call.”

Walmart is often derided as a lowest common denominator marketer. Offering and competitively pricing more healthful food makes the case that the company can lead consumer trends in the right direction.

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