"No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford." ~Bill Simon, President and CEO of Walmart US

I could not agree more with this statement; food is a necessity of life.  This past week, First Lady Michelle Obama and Wal-Mart launched a new initiative to provide healthier food options in Walmart stores as well as improve the nutritional quality of their private label goods and work with their suppliers to do the same.

I whole heartily want to be supportive of this campaign.  I really do, as it has the potential to help transform the lives of Americans and reshape the face of the country.  Maybe it’s part of being a holistic nutritionist-in-training that I am forced to question the planning, execution and motives behind this entire effort.

The first point I don’t agree with is the quote by Andrea Thomas, Senior VP of Sustainability with Walmart, "We support consumer choice 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." 

While Ms. Thomas believes this, does the average American consumer honestly shop that way?  I think it is safe to assume that this statement does not paint an accurate picture as obesity is currently considered an epidemic in the US and that the amount of foods consumed on a daily basis that are high in sugars, sodium, fats and refined ingredients are the primary source of this problem.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in 2007/2008 there were approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States who were considered obese (meaning a BMI of over 30, this report also measured weights and heights for accuracy) and they did not get this way because they ate fresh fruits, vegetables, quality proteins and whole grains.

A positive to this, is that at the bottom of this press release Walmart states that they will join forces with the Partnership for a Healthier America to help fight obesity which is a positive step forward with lots of potential for American families.

I have to wonder how Walmart plans to balance this notion of healthier foods with many of the junk food products they carry in their stores (ie. pop, chips, candies, cereals, frozen entrees etc.)  I work for a head office of a major Canadian retailer and merchandising and advertising are major drivers of consumer sales.  Will Walmart change their adverting strategy and shelf-space currently dedicated to these items in favour of their fresh produce?  Will they replace the candy, gum, chips and pop in their cash lines for healthier options?  Will their consumers make the connection that just because a product has reduced sugars or no trans-fats does not all of a sudden make it healthy, i.e. a cookie that has less sugar and zero trans-fats it is still a cookie. 

They also claim to save their customers approximately $1 billion per year on fresh fruits and vegetables through sourcing, pricing and logistics.  This is great for the United States consumer but how about the rest of the world who is providing these foods, will they be the ones who end up suffering in order to make this happen?

In conclusion, I wouldn’t say I feel entirely negative about this effort, I just wonder about the plan moving forward and how it will be quantified as successful.

What do you think about Walmart’s latest initiative to make food healthier?