WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart Stores  last week said it was rolling out an initiative to reduce sodium, trans fats and added sugar in its Great Value private-label line and creating a front-of-pack label to help consumers identify healthier product choices.
“Eating healthier is really hard to do,” said Bill Simon, president and chief executive officer, Walmart U.S., in a press conference here. “It's hard to find healthier foods, and it's hard to afford healthier foods. That's what we are looking to solve. We are committed to working with suppliers, government and nongovernmental organizations to provide solutions that help Americans eat healthier and live a better life.”
The company said it would seek to cut sodium content by 25% on items including grain products, luncheon meats, salad dressings and frozen entrees; reduce added sugars by 10% on dairy items, sauces and fruit drinks; and eliminate industrially added trans fats on thousands of products in the private-label line by 2015, and will also work with suppliers to help them take similar actions.
The new seal signifying healthy choices will begin appearing on certain private-label items later this year, and will be available for branded product as well.
In addition, Wal-Mart said it would step up support of organizations that provide nutrition education for consumers, and that it would seek to open more stores in underserved areas, or food deserts.
The company also said it would seek to take costs out of the fresh-product supply chain through transportation and logistics efficiencies and local sourcing in order to provide more affordable fruits and vegetables. Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Wal-Mart, said consumers could save $1 billion per year on fruits and vegetables if Wal-Mart is successful in that effort.
First Lady Michelle Obama  — who launched her “Just Move” campaign targeting nutrition, childhood obesity and underserved consumers about a year ago — strongly endorsed the initiative, saying Wal-Mart's actions have the power to influence the entire supermarket industry.
“I believe this charter is a huge victory for folks all across this country,” she said. “When 140 million people a week are shopping at Wal-Mart, then day by day and meal by meal all these small changes can start to make a big difference for our children's health.”
“We applaud First Lady Michelle Obama's leadership and commitment to this important cause,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Wal-Mart. “Few individuals have done more to raise awareness of the importance of healthier habits — especially among children — than she has. She was a catalyst that helped make today's announcement a reality and her spirit of collaboration made our commitment to bring better nutrition to kitchen tables across this country even stronger.”