Why Is Michelle Obama in Bed With Wal-Mart?

Kim Conte

michelle obamaIn the past I've criticized Wal-Mart for a host of reasons, namely for its low wages, poor working conditions, and because new stores often cost local economies as many jobs as they create.

That's why I was utterly shocked last week when none other than Michelle Obama -- champion of healthy eating and reducing childhood obesity -- came out in support of the retailer's new plan to promote healthy foods.

I'm hesitant to view the announcement of Wal-Mart's new plan as anything other than brilliant PR: The big box chain's image problem is no secret. Therefore, the skeptic in me wonders whether a focus on healthy eating coupled with the pedigree of the First Lady wouldn't be just the ticket to renew people's faith in the corporate giant.

But as more information about the new initiative comes to light, I can't help but thinking: There might be something to gain from this new plan after all.

Here are some of the goals of Wal-Mart's ambitious new plan:

  • It will set specific targets for lowering sodium, trans fats, and added sugars in foods like rice, soups, canned beans, salad dressings, and snacks packaged under the company’s house brand, Great Value.
  • It will press its major food suppliers to follow its example.
  • It will eliminate any extra cost to customers for healthy foods made with whole grains.
  • It will lower prices on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Even if you hate Wal-Mart, you've got to admit this plan shows promise. Millions of people buy groceries -- including the house brand -- from the national retailer because it sells some of the most inexpensive food around. If this food is lower in sodium, fat, and sugar, then it will be exactly these people who stand to benefit with respect to long-term health.

Moreover, Wal-Mart is just as visible as it is powerful: If it throws its weight behind healthy eating and proves successful at it, possibly other retailers will follow -- and maybe even improve -- on its example.

The bottom-line: Wal-Mart is a for-profit company -- often ruthlessly so. If they can find a way to make food healthier and still turn a profit, don't you think other companies will follow suit?

Perhaps that's exactly why Michelle Obama has jumped into bed with Wal-Mart -- the first time she's backed a single company in the effort to get Americans to eat healthier. It's because this new healthy eating plan might just be effective in the long run in terms of getting Americans to eat better.

What do you think of Wal-Mart's new plan to promote healthy foods?


Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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