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White House Chef Urges Action on Healthy Choices

Supermarkets are naturally bound to embrace health and wellness as the direct purveyors of food to the public.

The Obama Administration clearly recognizes the role food retailers can play to help improve the nation’s health, especially when it comes to childhood obesity, which is now being called an epidemic in America.

During the final day of Food Marketing Institute’s Health and Wellness Conference yesterday, Sam Kass, assistant White House chef, addressed the few attendees still remaining on the last day of the show, about what the administration would like to see supermarkets do to help families stay healthy.

Supermarkets can take a leadership position on eliminating food deserts by building more stores in poor urban and rural neighborhoods where people don’t have access to affordable healthy foods, he said.

“Our goal is to eliminate food deserts in seven years,” said Kass. The administration has a healthy food financing initiative with a proposed $400 million dollar investment a year to achieve its goal. The investment would leverage millions more in private sector funding to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help convenience stores offer more healthy choices, he said.

Kass said supermarkets have an opportunity to raise the bar in efforts to cultivate a generation of healthier kids by being “architects of [food] choice” through store layout and merchandising in prime space.

He urged food retailers to include healthy and nutritional food choices in end-cap and center store displays, on eye-level shelves and in product sampling. Front-end checkouts, Kass said, are locations for candy bars that attract kids. He asked retailers to consider family-friendly checkout lanes displaying healthy snacks instead of candy.

The Food and Drug Administration is committed to developing a front-of- pack label to help consumers make healthier food choices, he noted. No one is in a better position to take a leadership role on front-of-pack labels than the food industry, he said.

“A front of pack label may be the single most important tool a parent can have to help make the healthier choice the easier choice.”

FMI recognizes the critical role supermarkets play in a healthy America. The concurrently-run Health and Wellness Conference, launched this year with the FMI 2010 trade show, was well timed and offered insightful and actionable content for those who stayed on to attend.

Unfortunately, FMI picked the last day of the conference to jam in most of the educational sessions, which drew minimal attendance because everyone wanted to catch their planes home. That was not only too bad for presenters, who invested their time and resources, but retailers too, who missed out on some new research and insights into the importance of health and wellness as a platform for supermarkets in the future.

Perhaps next year FMI can arrange things differently when it comes to scheduling this event.