Wal-Mart joins Michelle Obama's fight against obesity
Wal-Mart Stores, the nation's largest retailer and grocer, plans to start making its food products healthier and its healthy foods cheaper.
WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart Stores, the nation's largest retailer and grocer, plans to start making its food products healthier and its healthy foods cheaper.
In a low-income section of Washington, first lady Michelle Obama joined Wal-Mart executives Thursday as the retailer unveiled its "Nutrition Charter," a five-part program that will:
• Reformulate thousands of its private-label packaged foods by 2015 so the products contain less sodium and sugar and no partially hydrogenated fats and oils.
• Make healthy choices more affordable, saving U.S. customers about $1 billion a year on fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Develop criteria for a simple "front-of-package" seal so consumers may identify healthier options, such as whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat pasta or unsweetened canned fruit.
• Build stores in underserved areas in urban and rural America.
• Step up charitable giving to programs that educate consumers about healthier foods.
Obama last year launched "Let's Move," a campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation. Wal-Mart officials said Obama was the "catalyst" for the nutrition charter.
"No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," said Bill Simon, chief executive of U.S. stores for the Bentonville, Ark.-based company.
A number of food makers have made similar moves, lowering sodium in their products. Bumble Bee Foods, General Mills, Campbell Soup, PepsiCo and Kraft Foods announced sodium reductions to their products last year.
Wal-Mart's size, however, gives it unique power to shape what people eat. The grocery business of the nation's largest retailer accounts for about 15 percent of the industry in the U.S. and is nearly twice the size of No. 2 competitor, Kroger.
"This is a game changer," said Michael Hicks, associate professor of economics at Ball State University and author of a book on Wal-Mart's economic impact.
The initiative, Obama said, has the "potential to transform the marketplace and to help American families put healthier food on their tables every single day."
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
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