January 24, 2011, 11:59 AM — Wal-Mart announced yesterday at a Washington, DC press conference that it will reduce added sugar content by 10% and added salt content by 25% and remove all remaining industrially produced trans-fats and partially hydrogenated oils in its private label food products by 2015. Michelle Obama was there to draw attention to the news' relevance to her campaign against childhood obesity.
Bentonville needs IT to set the table. Will Wal-Mart run the table? Here's our assessment.
The New Face of the Wal-Mart Effect
The news caused me to think about what Charles Fishman labeled the Wal-Mart effect in 2006. He argued that Wal-Mart's influence on America was a net negative, justifying in his view a call for popular and political action to cajole America's largest company to change its ways.
What a difference five years make. Wal-Mart has been on a campaign to mend its ways and change its image with justifiable evidence ever since. Its efforts have ranged from greening its stores, reducing the carbon footprint of its supply chain, improving working conditions and employee benefits, supporting healthcare reform, putting it at odds with the NRF's initial stand on the issue, and advancing corporate social responsibilities in its vendor management programs. Yesterday's announcement takes Wal-Mart a lot farther, and I'd say it signals a step-change in its behavior.
Might it be said, flipping and paraphrasing a GM executive's testimony to Congress more than fifty years ago, that what's good for America is good Wal-Mart? A plausible case can be made that Wal-Mart can made the claim at least in terms of the typical American diet. Not to be too political about it, but I think it's fair to say that what America eats posses a systemic risk to our health and well-being. Simply put, if Wal-Mart sells healthier food, a lot of Americans will eat healthier food, and if coupled with other aspects of healthy lifestyles, Wal-Mart's move should put downward pressure on our national healthcare costs. Whether it's a case of selling what you can buy or buying what you can sell, it's good news. Wal-Mart deserves kudos.
Small Box Urban Stores
Policy wonks and public health officials speak of urban areas as "food deserts" where the poor lack easy access to affordable healthy food. With a large share of its store fleet located in those areas and its avowed strategy to be small footprint general merchandise stores, Walgreens announced late last year that it is expanding its food business in it urban stores.