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Is That Right? Wal-Mart shoppers save $$$ on healthful foods?

A current Wal-Mart TV commercial says that people who spend $100 a week at leading national supermarkets on frequently purchased groceries can save $55 [added 1/1/10: a month] by shopping at Wal-Mart instead. Though there are various versions of the ad, the one I've been seeing lately focuses on Wal-Mart's "Healthy Simple Steps" selections -- all of which are packaged and processed foods.


Wal-Mart media relations person Linda Blakley explained to me via e-mail that the numbers "are based on weekly price audits on 249 comparable items at leading national supermarkets conducted at specific time period compared to Wal-Mart's average national retail price" and that "Savings at individual stores may vary."

And, she added, the comparison "excludes produce, meat and other random weight items."

Which is too bad. When I tool around on the Healthy Simple Steps part of Wal-Mart's Web site, I don't find a lot that fits my definition of a healthful diet. Just lots of boxes and bags of food.

But there's more to the story. While the satirists at The Onion recently poked fun at Wal-mart's reputation as a source of Cheez Doodles, a journalist at The Atlantic Monthly produced this eye-opening report in which he compared the produce sold at Whole Foods to that sold at the Wal-Mart superstores that have full grocery offerings. Writer Corby Kummer was astonished to find that in more instances than not, Wal-Mart's produce was as good as, if not better than, that found at the supposedly classier Whole Foods. And cheaper, too.

So, even if your first impression of Wal-Mart is that it's a great place to stock up on Cheez-Its, bear in mind that Wal-Mart shoppers can indeed save money on healthful foods -- at least at the superstores.

Too bad there aren't more of those superstores around. Because making inexpensive, high-quality produce available to people at the same store they go to for their $5 DVDs, Twizzlers and bedroom slippers might help bridge the healthful-eating gap in this country.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  February 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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Comments

I find the Walmart - Whole Foods comparison interesting, simply because it contrasts so sharply with my experience. I don't shop Whole Foods, but whenever I've purchased produce at Walmart, it has been rotten in 2-3 days. Since I end up throwing half or more away, any price difference is more than eliminated.

Posted by: volleymom | February 26, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Haven't tried WalMart but where I live there's a Raley's that has much lower prices for what I buy at Whole Foods (unless on sale), and even Trader Joe's. So I end up shopping mostly at Raley's and Trader Joe's.

Posted by: kkrimmer | February 26, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

There are a few differences that are not taken into account. How much additional cost is there inherent in the production methods that Wal-Mart suppliers use? The cost of the effluent created by the factory farms suppling Wal-Mart shows up in the taxes we pay to clean up the pollution and in our health care. We subsidize factory farming not only with huge, not needed, tax breaks but with the cost of the diseases created by these same farms; e.g. Swine flu was genetically traced to a factory farm in Texas.
Our economy is healthier because the people that work at Whole Foods have good jobs with health insurance; they make enough they can buy the things that keep our economy going. Wal-Mart's "cheap" prices end up hurting our economy with jobs that are low wage with no benefits. Wal-Mart demand the lowest prices and so end up with suppliers in countries that have no worker protections, no environmental protections, etc. (We have tracked pollution from China to the U.S.)

Posted by: lennyp | February 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Although making healthier food available should indeed be lauded for the WM Supercenters, that's only half the solution: consumers still need to know, and want, to buy the healthier foods. I've seen Walmarts and Sam's Clubs in places like WV, for example, where they simply can't get any takers for the best food items.

Posted by: exerda | February 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Wal-Mart isn't a terribly generous employer, but under pressure from places like Maryland where they were threatening a 8% tax for companies not offering health care, they have developed an insurance plan for their employees.

It's not real generous and has a high deductible, but it exists. If health care didn't cost so much it would be probably be better. The Dems would probably have had better luck getting their own health plan passed if they'd kept the tab low by looking over the Walmart strategy.

The Atlantic article compared "organic" foods from WH & WM. So I think we can assume that tons of waste and chemical did not flow off the "organic" farms. Apparently milk farmers in Vermont who saw their demand for expensive milk shrink in the recession are glad enough to deal with a WM since they are a large purchaser.

Their are plenty of WM superstores around, but not many in MoCo because Giant and other interests have rigged the zoning to where they can't build large stores.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 26, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

One thing Whole Foods has over WM every day of the week is that even comparing "organic" foods, Whole Foods offers many locally-grown choices when available--which WM does not in my experience. So even if both are "organic," it's much better (for several different reasons) to get the stuff which doesn't have to be trucked or flown or placed on a cargo ship from halfway across the globe.

Posted by: exerda | February 26, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

I shop at Wal-Mart mainly because I can get cat food 2 Cents cheaper a can. All though I would rather take a beating then shop in that supersized stockyard I do buy their draw items olives, vinegar,sugar and some others. Their produce and meat is overpriced for the quality that they offer. I haven't seen any bargains there that weren't made up by overpricing other products. They are just like all other big corporations, make the biggest profit they can to keep their stock prices up.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | February 26, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

yes, walmart can sell everything cheaper because they shortchange their employees and pass that savings on to the customers.

Posted by: mediajunky | February 26, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

How many people shop at Whole Foods as compared to Giant and Safeway (or Kroger, IGA, Piggly Wiggly in other regions of the country)? Is Whole Foods the leading grocer in ANY region? Second? Third? Fourth? Fifth largest (maybe) in some areas?

How, overall, do Whole Foods prices (for comparable items and comparable quality) compare with that of other grocers (besides Wally-Mart?)?

How many antibiotics are in the meat products that Wally-Mart sells versus just about any other grocer? The antibiotics used by the meat industry were originally developed to protect or treat humans from disease-causing organisms (they are called antibiotics because they are anti-biota [bacteria mostly], meaning they kill the disease-causing organisms throughout the environment), but overuse of those antibiotics by the meat industry (mostly to increase growth by a couple percent, NOT to protect the animal from the biota) has caused many antibiotics to become useless in protecting humans from disease. Big Pharma loves this situation - big, Big, BIG profits from selling the antibiotics to the meat industry, then big, Big, BIG profits from the sale of new antibiotics because the old ones are no longer effective (because of the overuse in the meat industry). The result? One reason the cost of medical care increases year after year after year after year after year.

Posted by: critter69 | February 27, 2010 3:31 AM | Report abuse

I've shopped at WalMart for years, and as a nurse, I don't find anything wrong with the produce or other healthy foods. The price saves me quite a bit on groceries, as I have 2 growing boys (men now I guess) that need healthy eating at an affordable price. Stephanie with Nursing Comments

Posted by: sjewett1 | February 27, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

As a product demonstrator who frequently works at Walmart stores as well as other food stores including Albertson's, I can attest that generally the people who shop at Walmart are lower educated and not interested in healthy eating.
So that is one reason why Walmart stocks so much junk and processed food...the more healthier food does not sell in that environment.

Posted by: sfcindy415 | February 27, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

The question is: "where does the food come from?". China can label food organic but will not allow third party verification. We have to take their word. This from people who put melamine in babies formula. Sometimes the lowest price is not the best deal.

Posted by: mmad2 | February 27, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

"As a product demonstrator who frequently works at Walmart stores as well as other food stores including Albertson's, I can attest that generally the people who shop at Walmart are lower educated and not interested in healthy eating.
So that is one reason why Walmart stocks so much junk and processed food...the more healthier food does not sell in that environment."
___________________________________________

We can tell from the post that the author is certainly not "lower educated" and probably buys "more healthier" food.

People who don't shop at Wal-Mart are obviously more better than those who do shop there.

Posted by: spamsux1 | February 27, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

This column would have been much better if it had been less of an ad. Wal-Mart's position now reminds me of the oil companies position decades ago, when I first noticed their buying ads on public television nature shows. When you have enough money I guess you can try to buy enough good deeds to make up for what you did to get that much money... I am afraid your readers will not remember what your article was about, only that you supported this big store that has such a checkered history of abuse.

Posted by: Sunshine36 | February 27, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

People who shop at Walmart are usually poorer or cheapskates.

Some of these mouth-breathing neanderthals lumbering through the aisles make you wonder how some many dumb people can have kids that survive to adulthood.

I'm a cheapskate, so Walmart is not out of the question. I figure, all the household commodities are be stamped out of china anyway, so what is the use of fighting the tide?

If the public really cared or was smart enough, they'd have boycotted Chinese products decades ago. Too late now, so tough crap.

Posted by: misterbumbles | February 27, 2010 9:03 PM | Report abuse

I am not lucky enough to have a full-grocery Wal-Mart near my town. I do go almost every week to the Wal-Mart in a neighboring town to do my shopping, followed by a trip to a grocery store that carries marked-down produce. I also shop at Whole Foods.

How bad is the recession? Not severe enough, yet, I guess, to make my neighbors shop at Wal-Mart (I live in an affluent town). In the years I have been shopping at Wal-Mart, I have yet to run into anyone I know.

I love Wal-Mart. I love saving money. I love the quality of service I get there (excellent, the clerks go above-and-beyond to help out a customer). I will still go to Whole Foods and other supermarkets to buy fish, meat, veggies. And BJ's Warehouse Club for some things, too.

Posted by: KathyWi | February 28, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

The author's summary of the ad is WRONG! It says that if you spend $100/week at a leading grocery store, you would save $55 a MONTH at Walmart. Get your apples and oranges (get it? healthy eating) right. So that is a savings of about 12% by subjecting yourself to the horror of shopping at Walmart.

Clearly, I am no fan of Walmart, but because of their employment practices. Why do you think everything costs less there? It comes out of someone's pocket.

Posted by: Restonite1 | February 28, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

The author's summary of the ad is WRONG! It says that if you spend $100/week at a leading grocery store, you would save $55 a MONTH at Walmart. Get your apples and oranges (get it? healthy eating) right. So that is a savings of about 12% by subjecting yourself to the horror of shopping at Walmart.

Clearly, I am no fan of Walmart, but because of their employment practices. Why do you think everything costs less there? It comes out of someone's pocket.

Posted by: Restonite1 | February 28, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I was expecting a price by price comparision but the article read like an ad. Give me hard facts.

Posted by: rlj1 | February 28, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

In my opinion Wal-Mart's entrance into any market category, food included, is almost certainly tainted by mega-corporation strong arm tactics. Cheap prices almost certainly means someone downstream has been strong armed or short changed, or bullied.

Cheap prices come at a cost. In my mind, as long as there are alternative sources not controlled by the the major corporations, that's who gets my dollar. Even if it costs me more, I sleep better at night knowing I have supported someone, somewhere who is committed to ethics, fairness and high standards.

Whole Foods tries and mostly succeeds but they are not a panacea. At least Whole Foods gets the relationship between being in business and being part of a community:it's a lot about how you treat people. You might think you're saving a few shekels by shopping at Wal-Mart, but someone, somewhere is getting screwed and it's definitely not the corporation.

Posted by: VicG | February 28, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

I take exception to those who bash walmart.

they provide innovations in their supply chain that are unmatched. The only organization close to their scale is DoD.

The prices are low, and the ads are spot on. Comparing whole foods to walmart is ridiculous, how about comparing ANY suburban grocer in a 5 mile radius of ANY walmart? You can't go on line and shop produce, and you can't do it once and say that the bananna is good or bad, anywhere.

WMT is consistently lower in price for about equal quality. That has a huge impact on lower income families. Comparing Whole Foods to Walmart gives credence to the 'latte liberal' term that is used with derision in most of america. Whole Foods does not service the avg american, they target upper middle and wealthy people with sophisticated palates.

Wake up and give Walmart some credit for what they have done, and maybe just maybe you can engage in constructive dialogue on making their supply chain 'greener'. They have the leverage to remove billions of pounds of carbon from the waste cycle. This doesnt require a vote, they have the might to mandate it. Why would they do that if they cant ever satisfy the Left, or see any benefit from doing so?

They need to be rewarded for making positive change not continuously and pointlessly crucified.

Posted by: mikey999 | February 28, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Restonite1, for pointing out that I had left out the words "a month" after "$55" in the first paragraph of this blog entry. I'm sorry for the error!
- Jennifer

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | March 1, 2010 7:22 AM | Report abuse

I really don't see how any one who shops healthy can save substantial money at Wal-mart.

Stores like SuperFresh in our area carry their own awardwinning organic line like Green Way, offer the best in fresh organics in various departments such as poultry, deli, produce, dairy, cereal, cleaning supplies, condiments, juices, and canned goods.

These items are priced at least 30 percent below national brands, and are additionally discounted weekly in their instore Good Deals booklet and as part of their zavers program.

Great, healthy organics don't have to cost an arm, leg, and your first born. We can all eat health for less, if we shop wise.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | March 1, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

I stopped in a Walmart the other day when I was out of town, and I was really impressed with their selection and prices. We bought only produce, bakery products, and juice, so it wasn't processed stuff. I normally shop at Alberson's, and honestly I couldn't be bothered to deal drive the extra 10 minutes to my nearest Walmart, but if I was pinching pennies, I'd definitely shop there.

Posted by: kent_eng | March 3, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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