Even Critics Must Hand It to Wal-Mart This Time


Is there no end to the public-relations savvy of the executives who are leading Wal-Mart today?

With a just-announced corporate initiative to promote healthy foods at Walmart stores in myriad ways, the brain trust of the nation’s leading retailer has demonstrated once again that the company is always a step ahead of its leftist critics. Now, make that several steps ahead.

In one fell swoop, Wal-Mart has addressed and disarmed three of the main brickbats that its opponents still use to assail the company.[more]

By agreeing to cut salts, fats and sugars in its own private-label grocery products and press Kraft and other leading suppliers to do the same, Wal-Mart is effectively disarming the argument that its low food prices do more harm than good to lower-income shoppers.

There’s never been solid research to show that Wal-Mart’s products and practices per se are making America fatter. But now, Wal-Mart executives will be able to say not only that they save the average American family thousands of dollars a year because of their lower prices, but also that they’re helping their customers become better eaters in the process.

Already, Wal-Mart can point to the fact that its embrace of organics a few years ago has done more to increase the household penetration of organic foods in this country than any other single factor — a reality that organic-food producers back up.

The new healthy-food gambit also may be designed partially to drive a wedge between the White House and union supporters who identify non-unionized Wal-Mart as Public Enemy No. 1. Food & Commercial Workers Union brass might be a bit hesitant to rip Wal-Mart now that First Lady Michelle Obama has publicly and singularly embraced the company’s promotion of her anti-childhood-obesity initiative.

A third major benefit to Wal-Mart from the initiative announced today may have affected its timing. Nutrition experts have pointed to the presence of “food deserts” in the nation’s inner cities — vast, highly populated areas where there are limited retail offerings of affordable fresh produce and other fresh foods — as a big contributor to the urban obesity epidemic.

Wal-Mart already is going to help solve that problem with its recent agreement to build stores in Chicago. After its pact with Mrs. Obama announced today, the company would like to do the same elsewhere.

And don’t you think Wal-Mart executives would love to start in New York City, where city officials next month will again be considering the company’s highly controversial bid to build stores?