Providing access to affordable, sustainable and healthier food

April 22, 2016
by Kathleen McLaughlin


*In recognition of Earth Day, we wanted to showcase what Walmart, one of our strongest partners, is doing to promote sustainability and a healthy food system.

On this Earth Day 2016, Walmart is thinking a great deal about the future of the world’s food supply. Food is our biggest business: we’re the largest grocer in the world, and millions of families rely on us.

Walmart aspires to help create a more affordable, accessible, sustainable and healthy food system. We’re using our strengths – like our relationships with food producers and suppliers, our logistics network, and our philanthropy – to help bring about significant and lasting improvements to the system. This is not only critical for the future of our business, it’s what our customers expect of us.

Here in the U.S., we’re promoting the security of our food supply through five main areas of focus. Here are a few examples of what we have been doing in each.

Increasing access to affordable food. Through our stores, millions of families worldwide have access to foods at lower prices. In the U.S., in 2015 we saved customers $1.36 billion on fresh produce, adding up to a total of $6 billion in savings since 2012. We have also reduced the price premium on select “better-for-you” products from 5.7 percent to 3.9 percent in the last five years. Also, last year we exceeded a commitment we made in 2011 to put 275-300 stores in USDA-designated food deserts by the end of 2015; net of closures, we had added 442 during this period.

Relieving hunger. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed to providing 4 billion meals to those who need them from 2015 to 2020 through grants and food donations from our Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers. We’re also engaging associates and customers in hunger relief efforts; through Walmart, its suppliers and customers, our current “Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” campaign has so far raised enough funds to secure over 139 million meals through Feeding America on behalf of its nationwide network of local food banks. In addition, since 2005, our facilities donated 3 billion pounds of food to Feeding America food banks, the equivalent of 2.5 billion meals*.

Increasing the food supply through waste reduction.  In addition to donating unsold food, we are working to eliminate food waste in our own by finding good uses for the food that can no longer be eaten. For example, in 2009, Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club U.S. launched a first-of-its-kind organics recycling program nationwide. As of 2015, the equivalent of more than 25,000 tractor-trailers full of food waste has been diverted out of the waste stream via composting, conversion to animal feed, and energy production through anaerobic digestion.

Associate innovation has also helped keep edible food from going to waste.  As an example, Walmart store managers in the U.S. noticed that along with broken eggs, some perfectly good eggs were being thrown into the organics recycling bin. In response, Walmart’s waste team crafted two simple solutions.

First, they reduced in-transit damage by helping to develop a ruggedized, shelf-ready, reusable plastic container to transport and merchandise the eggs. Then, they worked on a consolidation process that implemented a simple, safe means of removing only the broken eggs and consolidating the undamaged product into whole cartons. As a result, this year we prevented 37 million cartons of eggs from being thrown out.

Enhancing nutrition. Over the past five years, we have helped reduce added sugar by 10 percent and sodium by 18 percent across private and national brands. In addition we have eliminated industrially produced trans fats from private brands completely, while only six percent of branded items still contain these trans fats.  We also use a “Great for You” label to help customers quickly identify more nutritious choices at the shelf.

Improving sustainable food production. To produce food more sustainably, we are working with suppliers, non-profits, farmers, fisheries, agronomists, and others on a variety of initiatives. For example, with our Climate Smart Agriculture program, we’re working with suppliers and others to increase visibility into key metrics regarding yields, water usage and GHG in food supply chains. This work is designed to foster improvements in food yields, water efficiency and GHG emissions. We also have been working to make key commodities such as seafood, beef, soy and palm oil more sustainable; for instance, this past year, we delivered on a commitment to sustainably source 100 percent of the palm oil in our private brand products based on RSPO standards. We are in the final stages of our philanthropic commitment to train 1 million farmers – half of them women – for more sustainable food production and better livelihoods.

At the end of the day, we believe that this agenda is good for our business AND the planet. Putting customers first means delivering for them in ways that are more sustainable.   


Kathleen McLaughlin


Kathleen McLaughlin is the chief sustainability officer for Walmart and president of the Walmart Foundation.


*Based on 1.2 pounds per meal