Wal-Mart on track with healthy food focus

by Eric Schroeder
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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — When it comes to providing healthier food to its millions of customers, Wal-Mart is making “significant progress,” the Bentonville-based company noted in its 2013 Global Responsibility Report issued April 22. The company said it is on track toward achieving five commitments it made in January 2011 in the area of healthier food.

Commitment No. 1 is to reformulate thousands of everyday packaged food items by the end of 2015. Specifically, Wal-Mart has set out to improve the nutritional quality of its Great Value brand and national food brands, and to reduce sodium by 25 percent and added sugars by 10 percent, as well as remove all industrially produced trans fats compared against a January 2008 baseline.

“In 2012, we completed the development of a robust system that will help us track progress being made toward the reformulation of Great Value and national brand products,” the company said. “Nutrition data was collected for a 2008 baseline and compared against 2011 data on more than 50,000 private and national brand food items and beverages. These comparisons stretched across 74 focus grocery categories.”

Wal-Mart said it has surpassed its goal on cutting added sugars, noting that sugars have declined for three primary reasons: reformulated products; new healthier products coming into the marketplace; and customers making healthier choices.

Meanwhile, since 2008 Wal-Mart said it has cut sodium in all its products by 9 percent, a move that included reducing sodium by 13 percent across the commercial bread category between 2008 and 2011. Also since 2008, industrially produced trans fats were reduced by 50 percent, and Wal-Mart noted that less than 10 percent of foods and beverages sold in 2011 contained industrially produced trans fats.

Saving customers money on healthier food is Wal-Mart’s No. 2 commitment. During fiscal 2013, the company achieved $1.2 billion in savings, bringing the total savings for customers to $2.3 billion over the first two years of the program.

“We’re tracking the price premium for healthier equivalents of national brands for more than 500 pairs of items in an effort to eliminate the price differential,” Wal-Mart said. “In order to truly understand the price differences, we look at both price and size of package, since price premiums can show up with smaller packages and/or higher prices. The price differential has been reduced in the past year from 5.7 percent to 5.4 percent. We’ll continue to work closely with our suppliers to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate price premiums over the remaining three years of our commitment.”

Wal-Mart also is committed to launching a simple front-of-package icon backed by nutrition criteria. The company is rolling out its “Great For You” icon across the United States. It will appear on more than 1,300 Great Value and Marketside foods and beverages in Wal-Mart stores in 2013.

“More than 4,000 private-brand products were evaluated against the Great For You nutrition criteria, with approximately 32 percent of fresh produce, meats and packaged items receiving the icon,” Wal-Mart said.

At the end of 2012, Wal-Mart had opened 86 new stores in food deserts since January 2011, putting it about 30 percent of the way toward its commitment of opening between 275 and 300 new stores in urban and rural food deserts by 2016. Food deserts are defined as districts with little or no access to large grocery stores that offer fresh and affordable foods needed to maintain a healthy diet.

“We project 800,000 Americans will have access to healthier food by the time we open all 300 stores outlined in our commitment,” Wal-Mart said.

Wal-Mart’s fifth commitment under the “healthier food” banner has to do with increasing charitable support for nutrition programs. The company, along with the Wal-Mart Foundation, has committed to invest more than $13 million in fiscal 2013 to support innovative programs across the United States that focus on nutrition education, cooking skills training and healthy eating. Wal-Mart has issued more than $26 million in grants since the original commitment was made in 2011.

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