First Lady hails America's largest grocer for "milestone" achievement; "Great For You" icon unveiled, nutrition grants announced...
Walmart executives on Tuesday held a news conference in Washington, DC, to announce the progress that has been made on the company's "Healthy Food Charter,"* a series of pledges to support First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, first announced in January of 2011. (The company's new icon, above)
With 3,800 US stores and 140 million customers weekly, Walmart is the largest private-sector partner for Let's Move!. Mrs. Obama joined company executives when they first announced their commitment last year, but today issued a written statement rather than making a personal appearance. Instead, Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass was on hand. As part of the Nutrition Charter pledge, Walmart unveiled a new "Great For You" icon, a front-of-package graphic which will eventually appear on many products. The company also said it has saved customers more than $1.1 billion on fruit and vegetables in the last year.
"I believe this Charter is a huge victory for folks all across this country," Mrs. Obama said in 2011 when Walmart first made its pledges. These included reformulating packaged food to reduce sodium and added sugars and eliminate industrially produced fats by 2015; dropping the price of healthier foods, including fruits and vegetables, and reducing the price premium on "better-for-you" food products; building or revamping markets in areas identified by USDA as food deserts; creating the front-of-pack graphic that will appear on "healthier foods;" and increasing charitable support for nutrition education programs. (Above: Mrs. Obama in 2011 at the Charter announcement)
During today's news conference, Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs, praised Mrs. Obama for her leadership in making healthy food more accessible and affordable.
"She reminded us to keep our focus on the most important table in America, the kitchen table," Dach said.
Walmart's new graphic icon, which contains no printed nutrition information, is designed to be a fast and easy way for busy shoppers to identify "healthy" foods. By April, the icon will begin appearing on the labels of "healthy foods" from the company's private label Great Value and Marketside lines of food products, Dach said. It will also appear on fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables and dairy products. Shoppers can find actual nutrition information about the products carrying the icon on the Walmart website www.walmartgreatforyou.com.
The company said 20 to 25 percent of its Great Value brand foods meet the criteria for the new seal, though it didn't say how many products will carry it.
"The healthy seal will be another tool for parents to identify the best products for their kids," Mrs. Obama said in her statement. "Giving parents the information they need to make healthy choices is a key piece of solving childhood obesity."
Products with the icon "must meet rigorous nutrition criteria informed by the latest nutrition science and authoritative guidance from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Institute of Medicine," according to Walmart. The icon was "developed in consultation with food and nutrition experts from the public and private sectors as well as leading health organizations."
Products "must contain at least a certain amount of healthy ingredients, such as whole grains, lean meats, low-fat milk and dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. And it must contain no more than a certain amount of total fat, trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars," Dach said.
So far, Walmart has reformulated 165 products in its private label line of thousands of food products to meet its pledges to reduce sugar, salt, and fat. As examples, there has been an average of 15% sodium reduction in Great Value canned vegetables, according to Dach, and Great Value ketchup has a sodium reduction of 15%.
Walmart pledged in 2011 to open between 275 and 300 stores by 2016 in areas identified as food deserts. The company has now opened 23 stores, and "anticipates" opening between 50 to 60 Walmart stores or Neighborhood Market (smaller, Walmart-owned grocery venues) by the end of 2012. Mrs. Obama has a goal of eliminating all US food deserts by 2017 as part of the Let's Move! campaign.
As for saving customers $1 billion? Walmart has actually saved customers $1.1 billion, according to Dach, "in just one area, fresh fruits and vegetables." Mrs. Obama hailed this as "a milestone."
"Just over a year ago, Walmart committed to save shoppers a billion dollars in their cost of fruits and vegetables and the fact that Walmart exceeded this number is a real accomplishment and a milestone in our efforts to support families eating better," Mrs. Obama said.
Walmart has done this by retooling its supply chain and working with producers, according to Dach. The price premium on more than 350 "better-for-you" items, such as low-sodium lunch meat, reduced-fat peanut butter and fat-free salad dressing, has also been reduced or eliminated, Dach said.
Walmart also announced that it has now given a total of $13 million in grants to nutrition education programs, which includes an announcement made on Monday of $9.5 million in grants to organizations including Share Our Strength, the National 4-H Council and Action for Healthy Kids. Last September, Walmart announced a $1 million grant to Growing Power, the urban farming non-profit led by Will Allen.
"The Walmart Foundation has supported nutrition education programs that promote healthier eating – regardless of whether the people who receive this help are Walmart customers or not," Dach said.
"Today's announcement by Walmart is yet another step toward ensuring that our kids are given the chance to grow up healthy," Mrs. Obama said.
The White House Walmart partnership has come under fire, with critics chastising the First Lady for partnering with a company that is non-union, and which offers no health care benefits to employees (statements from labor leaders are in this post). Walmart also drives smaller and local food sellers out of business, according to critics. The company is currently making efforts to build stores in Washington, DC, and New York City. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer last year released a study that predicted that a Walmart located in Harlem would devastate small business food vendors and New York City's fresh food economy.
*The "Healthy Food Charter" was originally called the "Nutrition Charter."
A Walmart video about the company's progress: