Food Engineering

Editor's Note: The next Walmart effect: healthier Americans and more customers

February 1, 2011
The retailing giant plans to reduce sodium, sugar and trans fat in the products it sells by 2015 and produce a simple front-of-product label to deliver the message to consumers.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall a First Lady of the United States who ever wielded much influence on the food and beverage manufacturing industry. But last month, Walmart announced sweeping changes in its product offerings to include more healthy food that’s also affordable. The retailing giant plans to reduce sodium, sugar and trans fat in the products it sells by 2015 and produce a simple front-of-product label to deliver the message to consumers. With Michelle Obama joining Walmart as part of the announcement, it dovetails perfectly with her “Let’s Move” campaign against obesity.

Some opponents have suggested Walmart’s purpose is not to make America healthier, but to shore up its profits. Walmart’s sustainability scorecard transformed the food and beverage industry’s level of social responsibility. With the latest mandate, let’s hope there’s a transformation of American waistlines. Just as sustainability was good for the planet and in many cases manufacturers’ bottom lines, healthier foods is a positive step in the fight against obesity, regardless of which businesses profit.

There’s a new world out there, and it’s causing people to make new choices. Working moms have outnumbered stay-at-home mothers for more than a decade, and these busy lifestyles call for smarter food choices. The rise in obesity, diabetes and other illnesses demands attention now.

In the past, I never shopped at Walmart. I preferred to go to one supermarket and one pharmacy chain to make all my purchases, mostly for convenience, but I also questioned Walmart’s business practices.  In the current era of pay cuts, job insecurity and rising costs of health care, gasoline and home fuel, today I’m in the check-out line at Walmart, for purely economic reasons. 

If you don’t like Walmart’s employee practices or anti-union history, you can always buy your groceries elsewhere. Putting aside politics or feelings about corporate actions, I think anything that improves the health of Americans is a step in the right direction.

See you at the check-out line.