Wal-Mart Announces Plan to Push "Healthy" Foods

Today the nations largest retailer, Wal-Mart, will announce its plan to revamp its line of food products in an effort to provide more healthy food options. Wal-Mart's  five year plan  aims to lower the amount of trans fats, sodium levels, sugars present in their packaged foods, as well as make Wal-Mart's selection of produce more affordable for customers. First Lady Michelle Obama is supporting Wal-Marts healthy food initative, which is aligned with the goals of her campaign for healthy kids and families. While many sustainable food advocates are wary of Wal-Mart, the new plan could make a big difference in the way  the majority of Americans eat.

Wal-Mart is the leading seller of groceries in the U.S., as well as the biggest purchaser of food products from major food companies like Kraft. While Wal-Mart's plan most clearly addresses the unhealthiness of its own line of packaged foods, Wal-Mart will also exert pressure on its suppliers to revise their products. Because of its size and influence in the market, Wal-Mart stands in a very powerful  position and could really lead the way in reevaluating the nutritional quality of processed, packaged foods. And because of Wal-Mart's success, they have the ability to absorb potential loss when they lower the price of fresh produce, rather than force farmers to sell at rock bottom.

In terms of creating more healthy food products, Wal-Mart has pledges to lower the sodium content of its Great Value line by 25 percent, totally eliminate the use of trans fats, and reduce sugar content by 10 percent. While these goals represent a big step in the right direction, Wal-Mart could probably do a lot more to make their products more healthy. One concern, however, and the reason for the slow, five year implementation, is that customers will be turned off to the new and improved foods. Reducing additives like sodium can have a major effect on the taste and flavor of the food, and customers who are accustomed to eating canned soups and other products traditionally high in sodium might not want to adjust their taste.

Other aspects of Wal-Marts grand plan, which were developed with and encouraged by the First Lady, include building supermarkets in rural and urban food deserts and monitoring the company's efforts with public progress reports prepared by The Partnership for a Healthier America.

While Wal-Mart's announcement certainly seems positive, and is in many ways, those of us who are concerned with access to healthy sustainable food should take their initiative with a grain of salt. There are still many unknowns and many reasons to be wary of Wal-Mart. In truth it seems that Wal-Mart is merely making its food a little less unhealthy and a bit cheaper. Perhaps now Wal-Mart's retail employees, many of whom are paid such low wages that they qualify for food assistance, can now afford a few fresh vegetables.