Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, said it’s reducing the fat, sugar and sodium in some of its private-label foods and will more aggressively market other healthy grocery items starting in April.
The retailer has reformulated some foods sold under its Marketside and Great Value labels, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said in a statement today. Wal-Mart will also label foods that meet certain nutritional criteria with an icon that says “Great for You.” Foods that meet its health criteria, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, will get the icon, the company said.
Wal-Mart said last year it would join an initiative with U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama to fight obesity by offering healthier foods and lower prices on those selections. The move may help the company burnish its image, while reaching more middle-income buyers and possibly making inroads into urban markets, said Leon Nicholas, a senior vice president in Boston for Kantar Retail, a research and consulting company.
“This won’t matter to their low-income customers but there is demand with the middle-income customers,” Nicholas said in a phone interview. “They can also go to New York City Council and say, ‘we’re bringing healthy choices to inner city markets.’”
Wal-Mart has been trying to penetrate urban markets, including New York, with smaller stores. Selling more healthy choices could be a way of convincing city governments that Wal-Mart offers something independent grocers don’t, Nicholas said.
Wal-Mart said it consulted with dieticians, nutritionists, the non-profit Institute of Medicine and government agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and Agriculture Department to come up with “Great for You” criteria. Separately, Wal-Mart is working to reduce sodium and added sugar in 165 items, the company said.
The company won’t immediately push its suppliers to use the “Great for You” icon, said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability at Wal-Mart.
“We don’t feel like we have to carry a stick on this,” Thomas said in a conference call with journalists. “If it shifts customer purchase behavior, it could provide an incentive.”
Wal-Mart’s nutritional criteria for the “Great for You” icon focuses on limiting sugar, salt and fat content levels. Foods can have artificial sweeteners and still get the “Great for You” icon, Thomas said.
Another part of Wal-Mart’s initiative is to lower premium prices on healthy foods. For example, whole wheat pasta is now priced the same as white pasta and the retailer has removed premiums on some healthy dairy products.