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Lesley Lammers headshot

Walmart's Healthy Food Plan Raises Healthy Skepticism

By Lesley Lammers

As mentioned by Leslie Back last week,  Walmart announced a five year plan aimed at reducing the price of healthier foods and providing a wider selection of healthy produce and packaged food items.  A recap of the major goals are as follows:

  • Collaborate with food processors to decrease salt by 10 percent, sugar by 25 percent and 100 percent of industrially made trans fats in a multitude of their packaged food items by 2015

  • Decrease the cost of healthier food options

  • Create their own front-of-package label criteria for healthy food choice identification

  • Build new stores in food desert communities where there is little to no access to healthy and inexpensive food alternatives

  • Expand charitable donations to aid nutrition programs

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign has teamed up with Walmart on this project, and the First Lady’s crusade against childhood obesity is said to be the company’s main source of inspiration for these new initiatives.
Bill Simons, President and CEO of Walmart U.S. commented, “No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford.  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.”

A well-known name in the food policy and nutrition world and author of What to Eat, Marion Nestle, points out on her Food Politics blog that Walmart’s nutrition criteria -- to be utilized for reviewing their own products -- “seem generous and not particularly challenging.” Nestle goes on to say that the creation of Walmart’s own front-of-label packaging to make these self-categorized ‘healthier’ foods more easily identifiable, “is particularly annoying.  They are doing this just when the Institute of Medicine and FDA are trying to establish research-based criteria for front-of-package labels.  So here is one more company trying to preempt FDA regulations.  When I asked Walmart representatives about this, they told me that the FDA moves slowly and the public needs this information now.  Sorry.  I don’t buy that…I’ll say it again: a better-for-you processed food is not necessarily a good choice.”

Another critique brought up in this Fast Company article notes, “In a sense, Walmart is correcting a problem that it bred in the first place,” citing a 2009 study that correlates the addition of new Walmart Supercenters with an increase in obesity in those locales.

While there is healthy criticism of Walmart’s plan, the skeptics also realize the significant impact the world’s largest retailer might stand to have on influencing food producers and other grocers by making a push for healthier, more affordable food options.  Tell us what you think of these initiatives.  Should Walmart receive praise, are they not raising the bar high enough, or both?

Related 3P Posts:

Save Money, Eat Better: Walmart: Announces New Healthy Food Initiative

Walmart’s Progress on Sustainable Seafood Efforts

Walmart Starts Huge Push Towards Sustainable Agriculture

Are Walmart's Sustainability Efforts Heavy-Handed?

Lesley Lammers headshot

Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.

Read more stories by Lesley Lammers