Walmart Calls on Its Suppliers to Create a Healthier Food Supply Chain

Jan. 27, 2011
Walmart will collaborate with food suppliers to reformulate national brands with the goal of reducing the consumption of sodium, sugar and trans fats, while saving consumers as much as $1 billion per year on fresh fruits and vegetables. The program includes various sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives

Retail giant Walmart has launched an effort, with the backing of First Lady Michelle Obama, aimed at offering its customers healthier and more affordable food choices. The five key elements of the program include:

Reformulating thousands of everyday packaged food items by 2015 by reducing sodium 25% and added sugars 10%, and by removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats. The company will work with suppliers to improve the nutritional quality of national food brands and its Great Value private brand in key product categories to complete the reformulations.

Making healthier choices more affordable, with the goal of saving customers as much as $1 billion per year on fresh fruits and vegetables through a variety of sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives aimed at driving unnecessary costs out of the supply chain. Walmart also plans to reduce or eliminate the price premium on key “better-for-you” items, such as reduced sodium, sugar, or fat products.

Developing strong criteria for a simple front-of-package seal that will help consumers instantly identify healthier food options such as whole grain cereal, whole wheat pasta or unsweetened canned fruit.

Providing solutions to address food deserts by building stores in underserved communities that are in need of fresh and affordable groceries.

Increasing charitable support for nutrition programs that help educate consumers about healthier food solutions and choices.

“No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford,” says Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. Walmart is committed, he says, to working with suppliers, government and non-governmental organizations to develop healthier food choices for consumers.

Walmart will reformulate key product categories of its Great Value private brand and collaborate with suppliers to reformulate national brands within the same categories by 2015. The effort is designed to help reduce the consumption of sodium, sugar and trans fats, which are said to be major contributors to the epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases in America today, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. The reformulation initiative includes three components:

Reduce sodium by 25% in a broad category of grocery items, including grain products, luncheon meats, salad dressings and frozen entrees;
Reduce added sugars by 10% in dairy items, sauces and fruit drinks; and
Remove all remaining industrially produced trans fats (partially hydrogenated fats and oils) in all packaged food products.

As its suppliers make choices on reformulating their products beyond the Walmart supply chain, the company expects millions of Americans to benefit whether they shop at Walmart or not.

“We support consumer choice so this is not about telling people what they should eat,” says Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart. “Our customers understand that products like cookies and ice cream are meant to be an indulgent treat. This effort is aimed at eliminating sodium, sugar and trans fat in products where they are not really needed.”

“I applaud Walmart for moving the food industry in a healthier direction,”.

“Walmart’s action should virtually eliminate artificial trans fat and significantly reduce salt in packaged foods and, most importantly, prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks and strokes each year,” says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Walmart says it will take a number of steps to provide customers savings on fresh produce through a variety of sourcing, pricing, and transportation and logistics initiatives that will drive efficiencies throughout the supply chain and further reduce unnecessary costs. For example, one initiative will establish more direct relationships with farmers, which typically result in additional income for farmers and lower and more consistent prices for customers.

“If we are successful in our efforts to lower prices, we believe we can save Americans who shop at Walmart approximately $1 billion per year on fresh fruit and vegetables,” Thomas says.

Walmart will also dramatically reduce or eliminate the price premium on “better-for-you” options such as reduced sodium, sugar or fat on products from the same manufacturer.

“Our customers often ask us why whole wheat pasta sometimes costs more than regular pasta made by the same manufacturer,” Thomas adds. “We will use our size and scale to reduce the price premium on these types of products whenever possible because customers shouldn’t have to pay more to eat healthier. Customers should be able to choose knowing the biggest difference in these products is not the price, but rather that one is better for you.”

In addition, Walmart will develop a simple front-of-package seal in consultation with health organizations to help customers identify healthier food for their families. The seal will be supported by a nutritious food standard designed to increase vitamins, minerals, whole grains, fruits and vegetables in food products, while limiting saturated fats, sodium and added sugars.

Later this year, Walmart will add this seal to its private branded food products that meet the criteria and will also offer the seal to its suppliers for their national brands that qualify. This effort will complement the front-of package nutrition labeling system already being discussed by the food industry.

“We are committed to working collaboratively and in partnership with our suppliers in order to make this initiative a success,” Simon explains. “Many of them are already exhibiting strong leadership in this area and together we can have an enormous impact on the health and well being of our customers and their families.”