A Walmart Neighborhood Market store in Springfield, Mo., was ground zero Thursday as the retailer showcased efforts to make food healthier and more affordable to First Lady Michelle Obama.
Three years ago, the First Lady created the Let’s Move healthy food initiative and the following year Walmart unveiled five broad commitments that aligned with her vision for ending childhood obesity within a generation.
As Walmart EVP of corporate affairs Leslie Dach noted during a media briefing that preceded the First Lady’s store visit, Walmart recognized that shoppers want to eat healthier food, but don’t always know or have the information available to make the right choices and oftentimes cost is a consideration, especially given lingering economic challenges, surging gas prices and the impact of payroll tax changes.
"for years, the conventional wisdom said that healthy products simply didn't sell - that the demand wasn't there, that higher profits were found elsewhere, so it just wasn't worth the investment," the First Lady said while standing at a podium in the store's produce section. "Thanks to Walmart and so many other great American businesses, we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong. Every day, with their success, these companies are showin us that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business."
One of the goals Walmart set two years ago was to help customers save $1 billion on healthy foods and that goal has already been surpassed, according to SVP of sustainability Andrea Thomas. Walmart has helped shoppers save $2.3 billion on healthy food through lower prices with three years remaining on the company’s five year timetable for accomplishing its five main objectives.
Another key initiative involved the creation of an icon that could be used to alert shoppers to healthier options. The "Great For You" icon was launched last year and today can be found on 1,300 items including fruits, vegetables and select private label products under the Great Value banner.
"The icon is really helpful for parents because it gives them a simple tool to make healthy choices," Thomas said.
She added that Walmart evaluated more than 4,000 of its private label products and found that 32% of them were worthy of the "Great For You," distinction. More are on the way as Walmart opens up usage of the icon to branded suppliers next week during an event in Orlando known internally as the Year Beginning Meeting.
Another of Walmart’s commitment involved opening stores in areas known as food desserts where residents lack access to affordable fresh foods. The Neighborhood Market visited by the First Lady was one of 86 such stores Walmart has opened in food deserts during the past two years and plans call for a total of 300.
As a result of those 86 opening, Thomas said 264,000 Americans now have improved access to fresh, healthy and affordable food.
To make food healthier, Walmart also sought to reduce sugar and salt and eliminate trans-fats by reformulating products. The company took a targeted approach by category and managed to reformulate private label and branded items without altering the flavor profile in a way that would disrupt sales. In the bread category, Thomas said sodium was reduced by 13%.
"We are proud of our work, but we have more to do. Our suppliers have been very positive and cooperative with us," Thomas said.