Walmart, announced a new healthy foods-based initiative last week alongside First Lady Obama in Washington. The five-year plan calls for reducing levels of sugar and salt, as well as eliminating trans fats in packaged foods.
By 2015, Walmart wishes to reduce sodium levels by at least 25% and added sugars by 10%, helping to reduce some of the nutritional downsides of hundreds of packaged foods. The company intends to work directly with food suppliers to make these changes happen.
How satisfactorily these companies will comply with Walmart’s initiative still remains to be seen. The plan also begs the question of whether healthifying packaged foods should really be the main priority right now. As Marion Nestle puts it, “I’ll say it again: a better-for-you processed food is not necessarily a good choice.”
Walmart plans to drive down the prices of healthier processed foods, and also intends to place stores in areas considered food deserts in order to help low-income individuals. Thirty to forty smaller-format stores are being proposed for creation in urban areas by the beginning of next year. The world’s largest retail chain also intends to reduce the prices of fruits and veggies by creating its own produce supply chain, a goal that I find much more beneficial than decreasing prices on processed foods. (I don’t believe “healthy” and “processed” should hang out in the same sentence, again why I don’t think it should be the top priority.) Company officials say they intend to save consumers a total of $1 billion globally on fruits and veggies. However, there are negatives to consider even with this part of the initiative, such as how it will affect local and small-time farmers.
Walmart is also in the works of creating a self-designed nutritional seal of approval to be placed on what the company identifies as healthier products by the end of this year. It aims to have 25% of its product-line meet the created nutritional standards, which will include a focus on fat, sugar, salt, and whole grains.
But once again, there is criticism of this endeavor, with many believing the company-created nutritional seal is simply a ploy to avoid stricter, (more truthful), potential FDA-regulated seals.
Walmart’s healthy initiative proves to be a contentious issue. It has called for praise and criticism from all angles. Is the company really looking out for the health of its consumers? Or is it simply trying to raise its own status and drive up its shares? By how much will the changes actually help consumers make healthier choices? It’s hard for anyone to fully be against an initiative that has at least some aim towards promoting healthier eating. But many claim Walmart isn’t doing enough and that the changes are insignificant, intended only to improve the face of the company.
What are your thoughts on Walmart’s new healthy initiative?