Some of the largest grocers in the United States have committed Wednesday to join the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama to bring healthy foods to the urban and rural areas in the country where there is poor access to fresh groceries.
Among the food retailers that joined Obama at the White House include Walmart, Walgreen and Supervalu. The three chains announced their plan to open stores in some of the country’s “food desert” where there is no access to meats, fresh produce and grocery stores.
Data from Supervalue shows that over 23 million people including over 6 million children live in these food deserts.
Walmart said it has long wanted to bring healthy and lower-priced food like vegetables to these food deserts. It vowed to cut prices on healthy food during an event in Washington which featured the first lady last January.
Such efforts from Walmart could help win favour with local officials who object to the opening up of Walmart stores in some parts of the country including New York City.
It was however noted that many retailers have started to open stores in underserved areas prior to the healthy food initiatives of the first lady.
Walmart, which has already opened 218 such stores since 2007, said it will open 275 to 300 stores in designated “food desert” areas by 2016.
“The first lady’s efforts in these areas have helped focus our real estate process, to take a particular look at these areas as we build out our real estate plans,” said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs at Walmart.
Chief Executive Craig Herkert told Reuters said up to 400 stores have been opened by Supervalu in some areas which may be considered food deserts including the recently opened five units on the South Side of Chicago.
“What’s new for us is committing very publicly with the Partnership for a Healthier America and the first lady to 250 new stores in food deserts,” he said.
Walgreen Co., the largest drugstore chain in the country, said it will open or convert at least a thousand “food oasis” stores with vegetables, fruits and other healthy food over the next five years. CEO Greg Wasson said over 45 percent of the existing stores of Walgreen are in these areas.
Supervalu plan to open up to 250 Save-A-Lot stores in desert areas is expected to create over 6,000 jobs. Walmart’s “food desert” stores are expected to create up to 40,000 jobs.