Walmart begins caravan into food deserts

Walmart Executive Vice President Leslie Dach announces the stores expansion into poverty stricken areas. Image: Walmart Stores/Flickr/CC BY

Walmart plans to open 300 new stores in oppressed areas known as food deserts. Two other major retailers also plan to expand into those areas. This announcement comes as part of Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating choices to combat childhood obesity.

What is a food desert?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a “food desert” as a low-income community, one-third of whom live at least one mile from a large grocery store. Michelle Obama has made getting healthy food choices available to those in food deserts a priority of her Let’s Move! campaign. Wednesday she met with several retailers to discuss their plans to better serve those depressed communities.

Walmart to expand to food deserts

Walmart announced its plan to open 300 stores in food desert communities over the next five years. Walmart Executive Vice President Leslie Dach, addressed the gathering:

“How can a parent serve their kids healthier meals when they can’t even get to a supermarket?” Dach asked. With a retailer available to a community, he continued, “they see access to healthy food at better pricing. They see jobs, and they see a contribution to the local revenue base.”

Dach was joined onstage by First Lady Michelle Obama, who said, “Make no mistake about it. This is a big deal. It is a really big deal.”

Walmart U.S. numbers declining

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has seen falling sales in its 4,000 U.S. outlets over the last eight quarters. The move into new territories could increase revenue and improve the box store giant’s image. That image was recently tarnished by an attempted class action discrimination suit brought on behalf of some of its female employees. Also, the company has long been disparaged by some unions and politicians for what they see as invasive marketing tactics.

Good for business

Dach was quick to point out that the move is not entirely about image, politics or damage control. It is about business. “For us, this is a business initiative,” he said. “It’s part of a growth plan. It starts there.”

John Marshall of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union added, “We hope the administration will remind Walmart that the company’s poverty-level wages are the primary impediment to thousands of workers’ ability to purchase fresh, healthy food for their families.”

Other retailers follow

Walgreens and Supervalu made similar announcements yesterday. Walgreens plans to open or convert 1,000 new stores in food deserts within five years, and Supervalu has committed to 250 stores.


Financial Times
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