July 20th, 2011
03:43 PM ET
Michelle Obama unveiled the latest push in her healthy-eating campaign Wednesday, announcing several national and regional food retailers have pledged to expand into a string of low-income markets where finding nutritious food options is nearly impossible.
“If a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child’s lunch, if a parent wants to add some lettuce to a salad at dinner, they shouldn’t have to take three city busses…to go to another community to make that possible,” the first lady said at during a White House event marking the new effort.
National chains participating in the partnership include Wal-Mart, Walgreens and SuperValu, which have agreed to open or expand more than 1,000 locations as part of the effort to eliminate what the Department of Agriculture calls “food deserts” throughout the country.
A handful of regional retailers are also involved, including Calhoun foods, an Alabama-based chain that currently serves low-income communities with six stores. The minority-owned company, which in the depths of the recession two years ago was forced to cut back workers’ hours to avoid layoffs, said they plan to open 10 additional stores in the coming years in currently under-served communities. CEO Greg Calhoun as well as Jimmie Coleman, a manger at the chain, were on hand for the event.
Specifics of the new effort include pledges by Supervalu to build 250 new stores, Walmart to build or expand 275 new stores, and Walgreens to expand nutritious offerings in 1,000 stores – all by 2016. Walgreens CEO Gregory Wasson said the chain has already found high demand for nutritious offerings in the stores where they are currently available.
In announcing the effort Wednesday, Mrs. Obama said the project will do more than improve nutrition.
“Think about the difference we can make. Think about the numbers of people who will find jobs. Think about the neighborhoods that can potentially be transformed,” she said.
The Obama administration is committing $35 million to the effort this year and is proposing $330 million from the budget next year.