Wal-Mart launches massive change project -- healthier foods on every aisle

Wal-Mart Gives Boost to Push for Healthier Food – TIME Healthland

Last week, Wal-Mart announced that it will change the "thousands of store-brand products to reduce sodium and sugar and push its suppliers to do the same." That's big news, given the sheer size of Wal-Mart and the footprint it has on the US Economy alone:

Wal-Mart's size, however, gives it unique power to shape what people eat. The grocery business of the nation's largest retailer accounts for about 15 percent of the industry in the U.S. and is nearly twice the size of No. 2 competitor Kroger.

"This is a game changer," said Michael Hicks, associate professor of economics at Ball State University and author of a book on Wal-Mart's economic impact. "If Wal-Mart could reduce the prices on healthy food and provide access to them in more places, you could have a measurable effect on incidences of diabetes and heart-related ailments."

Many have commented on the impact this change could have on the U.S. diet -- a dramatic change that has the potential to affect a significant portion of the nation over a short period of time. That's great news for eaters everywhere, even if food is not a typical topic for this site.

Reflect for a moment on the scale of the Wal-Mart announcement as a change project, though. What Wal-Mart has announced amounts to a fundamental change that affects every team and staff member -- at some level -- across the organization.

  • Research and development must come up with the quantifiable standards to measure partner performance as they retool their food products.
  • Outside partners must retool their products to meet new Wal-Mart standards to maintain visibility on store shelves -- the list of partners in the TIME piece that have already committed to this project indicates the scale: "Bumble Bee Foods, General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc."
  • Merchandising must orchestrate sell-through of existing products and drive adoption of new products on local store shelves.
  • Marketing must drive a new years-long campaign promoting not just a new product, but a new way of understanding food, with messaging, design, and interaction with consumers in a most sacred space: at their dinner tables.
  • Program and project managers must orchestrate activities across inside and outside teams to deliver new food products on time and on budget.

And they have to do it all in a way that inspires buy-in to a new way of working at Wal-Mart. As we've been discussing this week and last, the importance of buy-in can't be understated: it's what allows people to challenge current work habits, and make room for positive, inspired change.

Hats off to Wal-Mart for taking the hard road, the road of change. In an era of tough news in the headlines, it's refreshing to see this sort of consumer advocacy approach with one market-driven solution to our national health crisis.