The White House announced today that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, is working in partnership with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative in a wide-ranging program to encourage healthier eating.
Wal-Mart has pledged to improve the nutritional profile of thousands of packaged food products sold under its Great Value house brand, meeting specific targets for sodium, trans fats and added sugars over the next five years. Perhaps of even greater import, Wal-Mart has also agreed to press its major food suppliers to follow its lead with respect to their own products. Given the tremendous market power wielded by the company, such pressure could have enormous impact. Says the New York Times, “Some say the company has almost as much power as federal regulators to shape the marketplace.”
Wal-Mart has also agreed to lower the prices on fresh fruits and vegetables sold in its stores, build additional stores in urban areas which are currently “food deserts,” and increase its charitable contributions for nutrition programs.
According to the Times, Wal-Mart had been in the early stages of planning the initiative when Michelle Obama became involved. Her aides say “it is the first time Mrs. Obama has thrown her support behind the work of a single company.” Mrs. Obama and her advisors met extensively with Wal-Mart in planning the program and also succeeded in getting the company to hold itself publicly accountable through monitoring by the outside non-profit organization, The Partnership for a Healthier America.
The plan has been criticized by some as not going far enough (for example, added sugars in sodas will not be reduced) or taking too long to fully implement, and no doubt the devil is in the details. Nonetheless, I can’t regard this development as anything but positive.
Kudos to Mrs. O and Wal-Mart for working to make healthier food more affordable and accessible for all Americans.
[Ed Update: Bri of Red, Round and Green posted this critique of Wal-Mart’s initiative here. You can see my thoughts in the comment section — take a look at Nestle’s post and let me know your thoughts, too.]