First lady Michelle Obama joined Wal-Mart executives in Washington as part of her ongoing campaign to promote healthy eating. She said the announcement has "the potential to transform the marketplace and help Americans put healthier foods on their tables every single day," according to USA Today.
Wal-Mart has been working for a few years now to raise the profile of its organic foods section, and it has garnered praise from some high-profile foodies in the process.
"I think the most obvious story is that Wal-Mart lowers the price of foods, and a lot of the foods it has big price advantages on are the processed, inner-aisle types of food that aren't that good for you," study author and economist Charles Courtemanche told the Montreal Gazette.
Courtemanche argues that the economic effect of a supercenter's arrival also depresses prices at other stores in the region. But while his study indicates that that hasn't been a good thing for communities so far, with this announcement people like Obama are hoping that Wal-Mart will be able to use that same price-slashing power to make fresh vegetables and whole grains cheaper as well. The company plans to cut sodium by a quarter, eliminate industrial transfats and reduce added sugars.
Wal-Mart's gargantuan size might earn it some enemies, but it means that it's a major force in any market it chooses to participate in. As a grocery, Wal-Mart is twice as big as the No. 2 chain, Kroger, and the supply decisions that it makes have an influence beyond the customers in its own stores.
Wal-Mart isn't the first major corporation to commit to making healthier foods at the behest of the first lady. A number of companies, including ConAgra, Kraft and General Mills, made similar pledges in May. But Wal-Mart's size makes it a powerful new addition to that list, and health advocates and academics will likely watch carefully to see if a company blamed by some for expanding waistlines can start to shrink them instead.