Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A healthier Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart is many things to many people.

A retailer that has trompled Main Street in small towns across the country.

A welcomed business, employer and tax base to mid-sized regional centers.

A horrific corporate giant dictating prices for consumer goods and groceries.

An uber-convenient, inexpensive shopping experience.  (Diapers, milk, birthday cards, digital cameras, craft supplies and tires for the mini-van all in one stop!)

The fact is - consumer goods aside - WalMart is the number one grocer in the United States; accounting for 25% market share.  WalMart is double the size of its number two competitor, Kroger.  When it comes to selling groceries, they know what they're doing.

Which is why Wal-Mart's latest adventure to roll-out healthier food choices and lower prices on produce left me scratching my head.  Or, more like banging my head against the wall when I watched this news piece on the CBS Evening News.  (You can read the store here.)

Did you see the reporter walking down the cookie/cracker aisle holding the bag of Oreos?  Did you see it?  Did it make you want to bang your head against the wall saying, "Changing a few ingredients in a package of oreos won't make America skinny, fella!"  Okay, maybe that was just me.

The cynic in me says this:  Wal-Mart has the muscle to do many things.  But to think they can curb childhood and adult obesity by altering some ingredients in the foods they sell is silly.  Ridiculous.  Bang your head against the wall absurd. 

Furthermore, to think Wal-Mart is doing this without considering their bottom line is naive.  The opportunity to use Michelle Obama AND sell healthier foods is a nice bit of marketing.  And to cut costs in their produce means further consolidation in fruit and vegetable production.  Good-bye mid-sized California strawberry farmer.  You're out!

Wal-Mart has never been my first choice for groceries, but I do some shopping there on occassion.  My perception of the store is that the grocery department is geared to convenience shoppers.  Think semi-homemade.  I'm more of a "do-it-yourselfer."  I don't need any help, Hamburger Helper, thank you very much.  I prefer Dillon's.  The store feels more like it's designed for folks who like to cook and bake, and I like the quality and price of their store (Kroger) brands.  But that's just me.

If you want to continue shopping at Wal-Mart, go right ahead.  I wouldn't even think about trying to stop you.  But don't let yourself be duped into believing that buying Great Value oreo cookies is a healthy food choice.

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