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Walmart, First Lady unveil major healthy food push

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In tandem with First Lady Michelle Obama, Walmart has kicked off a major initiative to provide consumers with food choices that are both healthier and more affordable.

The effort, announced at an event in Washington with Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon and other company officials, entails a broad plan ranging from sodium, sugar and fat reduction in packaged foods and better nutritional content in food products to more efficient sourcing, pricing initiatives, "food desert" stores, and added support of nutrition programs.

WASHINGTON — In tandem with First Lady Michelle Obama, Walmart has kicked off a major initiative to provide consumers with food choices that are both healthier and more affordable.

In tandem with First Lady Michelle Obama, Walmart has kicked off a major initiative to provide consumers with food choices that are both healthier and more affordable.

The effort, unveiled Thursday at an event in Washington, D.C., entails a multipronged plan ranging from sodium and sugar reduction in packaged foods and improved nutritional content in food items to more efficient sourcing, pricing initiatives and stepped-up support of nutrition programs and healthy food education.

"No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," Bill Simon, president and chief executive officer of Walmart U.S., stated at the event. "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 nongovernmental organizations to provide solutions that help Americans eat healthier and live a better life."

Walmart, which is the nation’s biggest grocery retailer, noted that the strategy builds on Michelle Obama’s "Let’s Move" campaign to make healthy food choices more convenient and affordable for families.

"With this announcement, the largest corporation in America is launching a new initiative that has the potential to transform the marketplace and to help American families put healthier food on their tables every single day," Obama said at the event. "This Nutrition Charter promises a real change that can have a fundamental impact in how our kids eat, because when parents have the information they need about the products they buy, that puts them back in charge so they can make good decisions for their families."

According to Walmart, the initiative is centered on five key elements:

• By 2015, reformulating thousands of everyday packaged food items by reducing sodium 25% and added sugars 10% and by removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats. The retailer said it will work with suppliers to improve the nutritional quality of national food brands and its Great Value private label in key product categories.

• Making healthier choices more affordable, saving customers roughly $1 billion annually on fresh fruits and vegetables through sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives aimed at driving costs out of the supply chain. Walmart added that it also will slash or eliminate the price premium on key "better-for-you" items, such as reduced sodium, sugar or fat products.

• Developing strong criteria for a simple front-of-package seal that will help consumers easily identify healthier food options, such as whole grain cereal, whole wheat pasta or unsweetened canned fruit.

• Providing solutions to address "food deserts" by building stores in underserved communities in need of fresh and affordable groceries.

• Boosting charitable support for nutrition programs that help educate consumers about healthier food solutions and choices.

"Efforts like this show us that, yes, we can improve how we make and sell food in this country. We can do that. And we can feed our kids better," Obama remarked.

Walmart cited the First Lady’s leadership in the push for healthier food for families, notably her efforts in the battle against child obesity, as helping to pave the way for the retailer’s new initiative.

"Few individuals have done more to raise awareness of the importance of healthier habits — especially among children — than she has," remarked Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart. "She was a catalyst that helped make today’s announcement a reality and her spirit of collaboration made our commitment to bring better nutrition to kitchen tables across this country even stronger."

Plans call for Walmart to reformulate key product categories of Great Value label and collaborate with suppliers to reformulate national brands within the same categories by 2015. Through that effort, the retailer aims to reduce sodium by 25% in a broad category of groceries, including grain products, luncheon meats, salad dressings and frozen entrees;
cut down on added sugars by 10% in dairy items, sauces and fruit drinks; and remove all remaining industrially produced trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats and oils) in all packaged food products.

"Our customers tell us they want a variety of food choices and need help feeding their families healthier foods. At Walmart, we are committed to doing both," stated Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at the discount store giant. "So this is not about telling people what they should eat. Our customers understand that products like cookies and ice cream are meant to be an indulgent treat. This effort is aimed at eliminating sodium, sugar and trans fat in products where they are not really needed."

Walmart said its everyday-low-price model will help make healthier food more affordable, as will other steps to improve the cost-efficiency of these items. For example, one initiative will establish more direct relationships with farmers, which typically result in additional income for farmers and lower, more consistent prices for customers, according to the company. "If we are successful in our efforts to lower prices, we believe we can save Americans who shop at Walmart approximately $1 billion per year on fresh fruit and vegetables," Thomas said.

She noted that Walmart, whenever possible, will use its size and scale to dramatically reduce or eliminate the price premium on better-for-you foods, expanding the range of healthier food choices for consumers. "Our customers often ask us why whole wheat pasta sometimes costs more than regular pasta made by the same manufacturer," she explained. "Customers should be able to choose knowing the biggest difference in these products is not the price, but rather that one is better for you."

The front-of-package seal to identify healthy food will be developed in consultation with health organizations and supported by a nutritious food standard designed to increase vitamins, minerals, whole grains, fruits and vegetables in food products and limit saturated fats, sodium and added sugars. Later this year, Walmart plans to add this seal to its private label food products that meet the criteria as well as offer the seal to its suppliers for their national brands that qualify.

"We are committed to working collaboratively and in partnership with our suppliers in order to make this initiative a success," Simon commented about the overall healthy food initiative. "Many of them are already exhibiting strong leadership in this area, and together we can have an enormous impact on the health and well being of our customers and their families."

He added that the company has made it a business priority to find ways to provide fresh and affordable food items to people in urban and rural communities with a dearth of supermarkets and grocery outlets.

"As we continue to expand in the U.S.," Simon said, "we are focused on developing new formats and new approaches that will offer underserved communities fresh and affordable food options where they are needed most."


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