Walmart Healthy Food Initiative Could Shape Consumers' Choices

In a move that could have a significant impact on food distribution and consumption in the U.S., Walmart, the nation's largest grocery chain, recently announced an initiative to make its packaged foods healthier, and to make healthier foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable.

Walmart has committed to reformulating thousands of packaged food items by 2015, reducing sodium by 25% and added sugars by 10% and removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats. The retailer will work with suppliers to improve the nutritional qualities of national brands as well as its Great Value private label brand in key product categories.

The company also aims to make healthier food choices more affordable. Walmart estimates it can save customers approximately $1 billion per year on fresh fruits and vegetables through a variety of sourcing, pricing, transportation and logistics initiatives to drive costs out of the supply chain.

Walmart's enormous purchasing clout means that as food suppliers reformulate their products to meet the new requirements, Walmart's moves will affect other retailers and their customers.

"No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart. "With more than 140 million customer visits each week, Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone. We are committed to working with suppliers, government and non-governmental organizations to provide solutions that help Americans eat healthier and live a better life."

The program builds on First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to make healthy choices more convenient and affordable for families.

Walmart also plans to develop strong criteria for a front-of-package seal that will help shoppers identify healthier food options such as whole grain cereal, whole wheat pasta or unsweetened canned fruit. The retailer will also seek to irrigate food "deserts" by building stores in underserved communities that are in need of fresh, affordable groceries, and to increase its charitable support for nutrition programs.

The retailer has been seeking to increase its presence in urban areas, including New York City, which currently does not have a Walmart store but does have Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long advocated for healthier food choices. It's likely that this new initiative will provide Walmart with additional arguments for why it should have a presence in the Big Apple and other large metropolitan areas.
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