Be Our Voice Blog
Friday, January 21st, 2011
According to the New York Times, on Thursday, January 20, Wal-Mart announced a five year plan to drop prices on fruits and vegetables and to make thousands of its packaged foods lower in unhealthy salts, fats and sugars. The move represents a big step forward in addressing the affordability of healthy food in America.
While other national companies—like ConAgra—have promised similar reductions in unhealthy ingredients, Wal-Mart has much more influence over the market as a whole since it is the largest retailer in the United States. Wal-Mart “sells more groceries than any other company in the country” and is one of the largest purchasers of foods produced by national suppliers. Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, describes Wal-Mart as being “in a position almost like the Food and Drug Administration” in terms of influence on the American food industry. The company’s five year plan is not only a great starting point for testing pricing strategies, it’s also a move that will likely push the major food suppliers it does business with—like Kraft—to follow a similar approach.
However, Wal-Mart’s plan is not without its caveats. According to Mr. Jacobson, “The company’s proposed sugar reductions are ‘much less aggressive’ than they could be” and “[Wal-Mart] is not proposing to tackle the problem of added sugars in soft drinks, which experts regard as a major contributor to childhood obesity.” The five year timeline is also much less aggressive than most experts would like.
There is also the question of accountability and holding hold Wal-Mart to its promises. According to the New York Times, The Partnership for a Healthier America “will monitor the company’s progress” as it implements its plan. Still, the changes will not go into effect immediately and, while Wal-Mart has been specific about its goals for reducing unhealthy ingredients by 2015, it has been vague about a timeline for rolling out the pricing reductions on fruits and vegetables.
The company is receiving attention for its plan from high places—First Lady Michelle Obama has publicly thrown her support behind their initiative. Mrs. Obama’s support of Wal-Mart is seen as “a prominent effort by the administration to spur further moves toward healthier food.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has made using pricing strategies to promote healthy food one of its 6 policy priorities for reversing childhood obesity by 2015. And although Wal-Mart’s five year plan is in imperfect in its details, it has already successfully accomplished one goal of childhood obesity advocates: help push the national discussion about pricing disparities and strategies to the forefront of public attention.
We’re eager to hear from healthcare professional advocates about how they think this might affect the children and families in their community. If you’d like to share, please leave a comment!
Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods