Thanks to Walmart for Plans to Make Healthy Changes to Packaged Foods, Produce

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • On behalf of many people who are increasingly trying to make better choices about the foods we eat, I want to thank Walmart for its announcement of a five-year plan to make healthy changes to the company’s packaged foods as well as dropping the prices on fruits and vegetables. The New York Times reported  that Wal-Mart has pledged to eliminate industrially added trans fats as well as to reduce sodium by 25 percent and added sugars by 10 percent by 2015. In addition, Wal-Mart indicated it will develop specific criteria and a seal that will be placed on healthier food based on sodium, fat and sugar content.

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    And Walmart executives have indicated that they will use their clout to influence suppliers to make healthier options available to consumers. In a New York Times story, the Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson said, “A number of companies have said they are going to make voluntary reductions in sodium over the next several years, and numerous companies have said they are going to try to get trans fat out of their food. 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.” Knowing the influence that this company has (and having seen it firsthand since there’s a Walmart Super Center near my home that always has a full parking lot), I commend executives for this pledge.

    I also greatly appreciate that any cost incurred from these changes will be taken from Walmart’s own profits as opposed to its payment to farmers whose produce the giant retailer sells. Instead, company executives believe they can save through efficiencies, such as decreased transportation costs. An NPR story reported, “Andrea Thomas, a Walmart senior vice president, predicted consumer savings of $1 billion per year on fruits and vegetables as a result, if Walmart succeeds in making serious changes to the supply chain.” I am guessing that these savings also may come from Walmart’s efforts to increasingly add local producers to their supply chain. In an October 2010 New York Times story, a Walmart initiative that focuses on sustainable agriculture “is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large supplier grow and get their produce into stores.”  Walmart’s timeline for meeting the goals of the sustainable agriculture initiative also is 2015; this effort may enable Walmart to double the percentage of locally grown produce (defined by the company as produce that is grown and sold in the same state) that is sold in its stores to 9 percent.

    I am sure that technical hurdles as well as customer taste buds will need to change (as mentioned in the New York Times), but I’d encourage Walmart to consider continually shortening that timeline based on the progress it makes as it rolls out the initiatives. These changes need to come as fast as is feasibly possible in order to have the ripple effects not only at Walmart, but throughout the food industry. These efforts truly could be a game changer in the national efforts to embrace healthy eating in the United States., "To say I'm excited is probably an understatement because we're really gaining some momentum on this issue,” First Lady Michelle Obama was quoted as saying by Reuters News Service. “We are seeing a fundamental shift in our national conversation about how we make and sell food. That's something that wasn't happening just a year ago."

Published On: January 24, 2011