Courtesy of Walmart
This morning Walmart made a big announcement on improving nutrition in its private-label and other foods. Like everything Walmart does, this is big news because of the company's scale. And this was bigger, because Michelle Obama appeared at the announcement ceremony, which was held at The Arc, a community center in Washington that houses nonprofits focused on helping children and families "reach their full potential." (You can see the webcast here.) It's rare for the First Lady to appear at a single corporation's announcement, and a sign of how engaged she and her Let's Move team, including their Partnership For A Healthier America, have been with Walmart on the initiative. Their goal is to reduce obesity, particularly childhood obesity, and no one sells more food than Walmart. Attempts on its part to make healthier products easier to find and easier to afford can arguably make a bigger difference to the national diet than federal regulations--and certainly have a faster impact.
Whether to leave regulation and decisions about what goes into the food people buy to the marketplace or to the government is of course one of the largest debates in the country. Before getting into the particulars of today's announcement, it's worth noting two things. First, no one at the White House can be unaware of ongoing controversy over Walmart's labor practices. And the very public support for Walmart will not mean that the White House nutrition team, led by Sam Kass, will stop the work it is already deep into with other corporations and food manufacturers, and with many federal and state agencies, to improve access to fresher food and opportunities to exercise. But Walmart has a power across the entire supply chain, from farm to transportation to store, that no other marketer or grocer has. If and when it can choose to be a force for good—and if that impulse is largely the result of market demand and market share it doesn't want competitors to claim—the First Lady's team (and anyone else who cares about the country's health) would be foolish not to try to guide the company in the directions it wants to see the whole food industry head.