Partnership for a Healthier America Remarks

Building a Healthier Future Summit, Washington, D.C.

By Leslie Dach

November 29, 2011

Building a Healthier Future Summit, Washington, D.C.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

It’s a great pleasure to be here tonight.  I want to thank the Partnership for a Healthier America for bringing us together. 

And I especially want to recognize the leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama, the catalyst for this groundbreaking effort.

We are proud of our partnership with the First Lady and PHA.  She has taken on an issue that many said was too complicated or too politically charged to make a difference.   And she put it front and center.  And has gotten business and government and civil society to work together with new urgency and a clear sense of purpose.

The First Lady is not interested in solving this problem on paper or in press releases;  she wants to solve it at dinner tables, in lunch boxes, in cafeterias, and, yes, in grocery stores.  And it is an honor to be working alongside her. 

I know firsthand that at Walmart, she has made our work better…our commitment stronger…and our impact even greater. 

I also want to thank Sam Kass for his leadership and commitment to finding solutions that reach real people and make a difference in their lives.  Sam combines optimism, passion, and a charming relentlessness to cause everyone he works with to dig deeper and accomplish more.

This summit is addressing many of the issues our customers deal with every day.

We talk to Walmart moms all the time.  Many of them are struggling in this economy.  They tell us they worry every day about paying for their kid’s college education – even starting when their child is just one or two years old.  Recently, one mom told us she goes out every week with her kids to collect cans for the deposits – not for the money but to teach her kids about the value of hard work, at a time when so many adults in their lives are unemployed.   Others have told us they have prepared their families for Christmas by telling them that Santa is poorer this year too. 

These Walmart moms are settling in for the long term, they are living a new normal where they see these challenges as a given in their lives for some time to come.

Rising food prices are a top of mind concern for our customers, and we see it in how they shop.  We’re seeing more customers put food purchases on credit cards.  They’re also  choosing store brands over name brands – so canned tuna sales are down 7% for national brands, but sales of our store brand tuna are up 24%.  They’re also buying in smaller package sizes – for example, buying milk by the half gallon, instead of the gallon.  They know the larger sizes are a better deal, but they simply don’t have the money to buy them.

The family dinner table is where these issues of the economy and raising a family come together every night.

Moms know that what they put on their kid’s plate matters.  But budgets are tight.  And they don’t feel like they have a lot of good options or easy to understand advice.

This economy is forcing hard choices for many Americans, but we don’t think whether to put healthy food on the table should be one of them. 

We don’t believe any customer should have to choose between food that is good for them and food they can afford.

Our customers tell want healthier choices at affordable prices, and they don’t have time to research all the options.  They want better foods and better ways to spot them.  They are strapped for cash and pressed for time, and they are asking us, essentially, to simplify and democratize healthy eating. 

The healthy food charter we announced in January was our response to their concerns. 

We pledged to work with our suppliers to reformulate thousands of everyday foods by reducing sodium and added sugars and by removing all industrially produced trans fats. And our customers are already seeing those efforts reflected on our shelves.

We also pledged to address food deserts.  In July, we announced plans to open 275-300 stores over the next five years that will serve hundreds of food desert areas, and we’ve opened 20 of these stores already.

But access to healthy food isn’t just about store locations…it’s about affordability.  So we committed to save our customers a billion dollars every year on fresh fruits and vegetables.  And three quarters into the year we are well on track to meet that goal.

Finally, we pledged to create a simple, front-of-pack seal that will help busy families identify better-for-you options.  Making it easier to eat healthy starts by making it easier to shop healthy. 

We’ve been having conversations across the nutrition community…with the FDA…dietary experts…and the White House about what the criteria for a helpful seal should look like.  Now, we’re running different items through those criteria to make sure they work in the real world, and that all the products that eventually carry that seal deserve it.  I’m pleased to say we’ll roll out the seal early next year, and you will see it in our stores soon thereafter.  We believe this tool will help our customers put affordable, healthy food on their kitchen tables, and in their kids lunch boxes

Now, we’re going to have a little fun tonight with the Great American Family Dinner Challenge – how to eat well on a SNAP budget.

But we all know this is a very serious issue.  This evening is every evening for millions of Americans who face this challenge every day…and  often every meal.

A significant percentage of all SNAP dollars are spent in our stores, and they are used to buy items like bananas, whole milk, Ramen noodles, and hot dogs. 

The challenge we all share is helping people put SNAP dollars to the best and most nutritious use.  Even on the tightest budget, we can encourage people to add some nutrition by adding fresh produce or some frozen vegetables.  We can encourage healthier options like low fat or skim milk.

The opportunities are there to make these meals healthier – and we’re all excited to see what our chefs have come up with tonight.

Thank you all – and enjoy the rest of the evening.