Great Value brand foods are usually manufactured by name-brand companies, then re-labeled. Image: Flickr / pyxopatamus / CC-BY-ND

After months of discussions with Michelle Obama, executives at Wal-Mart have made a promise to make their food healthier. Over the next five years, Wal-Mart will reduce sugar, sodium, fat and prices of its food. This move comes on the heels of similar promises from other companies and world-record food prices.

Wal-Mart to ‘healthy-up’ Great Value brand

In the announcement Thursday, Wal-Mart promised that its Great Value brand will be made more healthy. The company is creating targets for lowering added sugars, sodium and trans fats. The company has also promised to reduce the prices of fresh fruits and vegetables in its stores. Wal-Mart has also said that it will increase the amount of whole grains in many of the packaged store brands, as well. The store has also said it will push suppliers of name brand products to meet these goals. Many store-brand products are often produced by name-brand suppliers and  re-branded for the store, so this would make sense for suppliers.

Food will get more healthy, promise suppliers

Wal-Mart is not the first major company to announce new health initiatives for processed foods. ConAgra foods, owner of Healthy Choice, Marie Callender’s, Hunt’s, Hebrew National, Snack Pack and dozens of other brands, has promised to reduce sodium by 20 percent in its products by 2015. The Food and Drug administration has not taken any specific action on regulating processed foods, but companies are starting to regulate themselves. However, these self-regulating actions are not always proving effective. More than 84 percent of items declared healthy by the industry group Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative contain added sugars, high fructose corn syrup, no whole food ingredients and no green vegetables.

Is reducing food cost the right answer?

Wal-Mart has also promised to reduce the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables in stores. Reducing food costs, however, may not be the answer to encouraging people to eat healthier. Worldwide, food costs are hitting record highs, so promising to reduce profit margin seems to be the right move. Cheap food, however, has been blamed for the growth of processed, industrial food. In 1970, the average household spent almost 15 percent of disposable income on food. By 2009, that number had dropped to just 10 percent. Many question whether it is possible to encourage “healthier” food without also raising the price.

Sources

USDA http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/September08/Findings/PercentofIncome.htm

LA Times http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-nutrition-labels-on-kids-foods-20110119,0,2275188.story

New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/business/20walmart.html?_r=2

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