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End obesity, cheaply - "Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods"

"Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, will announce a five-year plan on Thursday to make thousands of its packaged foods lower in unhealthy salts, fats and sugars, and to drop prices on fruits and vegetables."

read more...http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/bus...

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  1. love it!
    Kudos to Wal-Mart, they have been making quite an effort to clean up their act...yes it is probably the result of market analysis of food trends and working conditions won't be any better, but I can see the immediate benefit to this on a national scale, given WM's size and reach.

    1. Saw this on the news last night. Wonder if they'll stop stocking case-ready cryovac'd and saline-infused meats.

      1. It is a step toward changing the American diet and basic understanding of nutrition. Frankly, I am not really interested in trying to ascertain whether their motives stemmed from some self-protective or nefarious purpose. Even if they did, in totality, it still appears to be a decent contribution. Ideally, the 7-11s and Targets of the nation will follow suit.

        1. Glad to see that Walmart is acknowledging what a force they are in the American lifestyle...that whole "with great power comes great responsibility" thing.

          I'd like to think that it's out of some sense of the common good, but there's that horrible hard cynic part of me that figures it has something to do with profit or avoiding lawsuits.

          But whatever it is...it makes people think...and talk...and hopefully learn something...and hopefully do *something* for their own wellbeing, whether it's putting down that third box of Twinkies or picking up a bag of apples (or hopefully both).

          The momentum is beginning to shift, and it takes big weight like this to help turn the thing.

          1. OK, I guess I will have to be the one to call "BS". I don't believe that WalMart has any altruistic motivation behind this. It all looks great from a PR standpoint and they gain political points with Mrs. Obama and her supporters, but the basic Wal-martian, who would benefit the most from a healthier diet, are not going to be motivated to buy healthier foods in any quantity to make any sort of impact. WalMart's expansion in the US has topped out in the rural areas and they are finding it increasingly difficult to penetrate into the urban areas. IMHO, they are trying to appeal to the urban "disadvantaged" (read the middle-class trying to scrape by in this economy) by jumping on the "eat healthy" band wagon. WalMart only does what is in WalMart's best interest, not what is good for consumer or the community in which they reside.

            4 Replies
            1. re: araknd

              You may, in many ways, be quite right. It is a fact that a corporate entity’s decision makers have a duty to act for the financial benefit of its stakeholders. Nevertheless, sometimes concepts of corporate responsibility, external political pressures or incentives, and profit maximization can coincide in such a way as to be to society’s advantage. I’m simply trying to quell my inner cynic and recognize that both Wal-Mart’s bottom line and America’s waistline may benefit from such actions.

              1. re: araknd

                Wal-mart's customers don't need to be motivated to buy more healthful foods. Wal-mart is planning to make their house brand foods more healthful (or at least less un-healthful), which means customers who are motivated to buy the least-expensive product on the shelf will also get the better-for-them product by default. Granted, they'll still be buying cookies and crackers, just with slightly less junk as defined by current food science standards.

                Also, I don't think anyone is claiming this is an altruistic move. Wal-mart has been very upfront about the economic reasoning behind the changes in recent years - they increased organic products, changed to growth hormone free milk, and are now reformulating packaged foods to meet market demand, plain and simple.

                1. re: araknd

                  Walmart's play seems to be the epitome of hypocrisy and self-justification. Buy more, consume more but sleep well because it's better for you than the life-shortening slop we've sold for years--maybe. Short of instore bariatric procedures, does anyone really believe this will do anything except fatten Walmart's bottom line and squeeze the wee out of what remains of the competition in the name of customers' well-being? All Walmart wants is for the herd to continue waddling through the door.

                  1. re: Kagemusha

                    How many companies/groups like Kallari can you name?

                    Walmart sees a market and they're moving in. Of course they're doing this mainly for the profit and image. How many companies don't act on those two motives? I think many are trying to escape from the reality that there aren't many altruistic companies. The familiar ones familiar around here, like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Stonyfield and so on all care about profits, and that's not a bad thing. Raising the bar to get ahead of the competition? That's capitalism.

                    Walmart is doing this because it's good for Walmart. And, it's also good for consumers. That's wrong? To me, that's a very twisted view of things.

                2. don't like Walmart, sorry it is the nation's largest retailer.

                  1. I think a push to make packaged and convenience foods more healthful by reducing sodium, transfat and sugar content and to make whole foods more affordable is fantastic. I assume their motive is profit-driven over the long-term--it is a publicly traded corporation that has to answer to it's shareholders. As long as their efforts to make whole foods more affordable don't come at the expense of the little guys, small family farms, etc., and as long as their improvements are genuine and not just a marketing stunt, I think this is a move in the right direction.


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      "As long as their efforts to make whole foods more affordable don't come at the expense of the little guys, small family farms, etc., and as long as their improvements are genuine and not just a marketing stunt, I think this is a move in the right direction."

                      Walmart won't be buying from "the little guys" who lack the capacity and efficiencies to endure the tissue-thin margins Bentonville inflicts on suppliers. Trust me, this is more about optics and enlarging market share. There's no other motive.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        I am certain you are right. I'm just drawing my line in the sand to be clear where I stop approving of it.


                    2. Personally I applaud any attempt to bring healthy and lower calorie foods to the American public. I do not watch RR and find her style like fingernails on a chalkboard, but she has opened the eyes to a demographic that can now start to cook. Insert applauds.

                      There are probably more people that shop in Walmart than post on Chowhound and this may be the only data points they receive on a means to eat healthier. And if Walmart makes a profit doing this, more power to them. They understand their market clout and have done something positive and I will clap versus throw stones. I will keep my stones for companies that add absolutely no value to society that everyone loves, like Facebook

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: jfood

                        I beg to differ, Fbook adds a ton of social value to millions of lives. But thats a topic for a different forum.

                      2. Knowing what we know about how Wal-Mart values the health of its employees (see http://walmartwatch.org/blog/archives... ) I am certain that this is a stunt, or a backroom deal to keep that flow of cheap Chinese goods coming in to the country. Why was this announcement made during the Chinese president's visit, anyway?

                        Honestly, I have never been able to understand why quality food for the poor is not more of a political issue in our country. IMO, it's akin to crime and drugs that plague the poor. Why don't advocacy groups demand higher quality and less poison?

                        1. Firstly, I would have to agree that there are probably some Chowhounds that do shop at Walmart. It is probably also--however--true the majority of Walmart grocery shoppers are not on Chowhound.--Frankly it is hard to tell because I have always lived in surburbia... therefore people are either 1) need the cash and shopping for the greatest deal around.. or 2) obsessed with being 100% organic. So it is hard to know what and who and how effective Walmart will be overall.

                          In general, however, it is evident that Walmart makes highly processed foods very affordable. For $2 at Walmart you could buy a package of Poptarts, but $2 would not even buy you a package of grape tomatoes at Walmart. If you have 3 kids and they need a meal, you can get the Poptarts and be done. Frankly, I have seen the 'fresh produce' items at Walmart (like the tomatoes) and they are higher priced than many other places. (I might as well drive to Whole Foods for that price.)

                          Regardless of whether or not they are doing it to be healthy or doing it to gain publicity, I--like other posts--believe that it is good that at least the headline and discussion it inspires relates to making whole food more affordable in the US. Although I love eating well, I can well testify that as a single, independent, young adult I have to navigate shopping for items with a critical eye.

                          Moreover, Walmart's plug like the McDonald's commercials where they show lots of fresh looking fruit and vegetables does not make me feel so good in the long run. Regardless of all things, they are still hurting independent stores.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: GraceW

                            I believe that this 'strategy' is mainly PR but Walmart could do better by introducing healthier, private label brands. This will be a major challenge because W/M is mostly about pimping crappy, overpriced *national* food brands. I see very few private brand labelled food items in the few local Supercenters, and the produce section is nothing special or even value priced.

                            1. re: DiveFan

                              Wal-Mart does have it's own private label called "Great Value". The frequency with which it shows up on shelves has to do with national label overstocks, free manufacturing capacity and Wal-Mart's margin on it's Pvt label vs the National Label

                            2. re: GraceW

                              I buy the produce at my local Walmart and I'm not ashamed to admit it. They get phenominal Asian pears, good grapes, fine avocados, nice radishes and good oranges for a fraction of what I pay at WF or my local grocer. At least in my area, the dollar savings is substantial without a reduction in quality.

                            3. One of the things Wal-Mart can achieve because of their purchasing power is to get producers to change their ways. Sure it makes sense economically to Wal-Mart but they evidently have been doing a bit of listening to their customers who want less processed choices. Someone is going to be unhappy with the decision but Wal-Mart's power does allow them to say, "do it or we find another supplier". This in turn is good on many fronts and will cause large producers to act more like smaller producers who care both in ingredients and costs.

                              1. This is, in general, a good thing. However, having Wal-Mart in the picture doesn't sit right with me.

                                Specifically, I want to speak of produce. Given Wal-Mart's history of undercutting the local guy, always trying to get the lowest price (and sometimes setting it), I'm not so sure. How does this affect the farmers? How does this affect the ability of our farmers to produce? They are notorious for setting prices, as well as cutting out any one who won't give them products at the set price. I fear that Wal-mart may do more harm than good in this category.

                                On the other hand, because of their size, they could start a high demand for good produce. Which would benefit all; both consumer and farmer.

                                But, ya, I don't trust Wal-mart, they've on;y their best interests at heart.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: cosmogrrl

                                  1. Read the news piece closely. They are moving to healthier PACKAGED items. not farmers produce.

                                  Now, for stuff like locally made jams, pies, honey I doubt there any overlap between Wal-Mart's target market and those who buy local farm produce from farmers markets and such.

                                  1. re: meatnveg

                                    It's been awhile since I've been to a Walmart, but I think there are all kinds of "packaged" fresh produce at various grocery stores, sliced apples in a plastic container, lettuce in a bag, etc. It's unclear whether these kinds of goods are included in their initiative.


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      They are lowering the prices of the produce, I thought.

                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Consumer Packaged goods generally refers to food products that go through some processing.
                                        So sliced apples could be there, but I doubt they can do much to change the nutritional value in those.
                                        Lowering prices seems likely, but as so much of the produce is grown outside of Wal-Mart's control and driven by the a number of extraneous factors (disease, climates, global demand) I don't see how they can undercut others on a continuous basis..unless they go the GM, greenhouse route to ensure supply and cost control

                                      2. re: meatnveg

                                        "healthier packaged items" seems a bit of an oxymoron, especially as interpreted by Bentonville. Predicting long line-ups and rainchecks for those hi-fibre, organic, non-GMO Twinkies and Ho-hos. MMmmm!

                                    2. Wal Mart is proof one can shop locally > I do..it's 2 miles from my house. Not wasting gas driving 20 min each way somewhere else.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: rochfood

                                        I think you're missing the concept of "shop locally"

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          Why is one "better" than the other ? In societal terms.

                                          1. re: rochfood

                                            It's not so much about the fuel you use driving 20 miles, it's the shipping from Chile, or the airplane from Hawai'i, to the Port of Los Angeles, then the 2000 miles by truck to the store. Shopping locally really refers to products that are sourced locally, grown locally, to conserve fossil fuels, minimize pollution, and encourage economic growth in your immediate area.

                                            1. re: rochfood

                                              Not to mention how much fresher and therefore more nutritious your produce is if it doesn't have to travel thousands of miles to end up on your plate.