First Lady Teams With Grocers to Bring Stores to 'Food Deserts'

Michele ObamaAs part of a plan to help remedy America's "food deserts," First Lady Michelle Obama announced on Wednesday that she is helping several of the country's largest food retailers -- including retail giant Walmart (WMT) -- expand their operations into underserved areas. The program, part of her "Let's Move!" campaign, is designed to increase access to high-quality nutritious food.

At first blush, the term "food deserts" brings to mind a blasted, empty wasteland, with nary a restaurant in sight. In truth, however, these at-risk areas often have several food options -- as long as one is in the mood for high-density, highly caloric fast food. But for consumers in search of healthier options like fresh fruits and vegetables, many urban and rural neighborhoods lack basic supermarkets. And, when grocery stores are convenient to those neighborhoods, their wares are often overpriced and of low quality.

In addition to expanding access to fresh food, the First Lady's program is designed to create jobs. One of her proposed partners, Supervalu (SVU), has announced that its proposed expansion will create 6,000 jobs. Another, Brown's SuperStore, estimates that it will add a further 325 workers. The biggest promise, however, came from Walmart, which claimed that its new and expanded stores will employ 40,000 more people.

Fresh Face on an Old Solution

Michelle Obama is hardly the first person to identify the connection between poverty and poor nutrition. For years, health experts have noted a direct link between easy access to fast food and a variety of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. According to a recent analysis from the Food Research and Action Center, the lack of grocery stores, the high cost of good food, and easy availability of fast food have combined to create an ideal environment for poor nutrition in low-income areas.

The Obama solution also isn't as revolutionary as it sounds: New York City's Green Carts program, a public-private partnership unveiled in 2008, has deployed more than 400 fresh produce carts to many of the city's lower-income neighborhoods. In addition to vastly increasing access to fresh food among the city's poorest residents, Green Carts has also created hundreds of jobs. The program has since been studied by other cities -- including Chicago and Philadelphia -- that are also hoping to create some oases in their own food deserts.

However, while the First Lady's plan is similar to earlier food desert solutions, it goes a lot further. According to a White House press release, the proposed 1,500 stores that it will create will lead to tens of thousands of jobs and will bring fresh produce to more than 9.5 million people who currently do not have sufficient access to healthy food.

Expanding Stores, Contracting Waistlines

While some retailers, Walmart in particular, are already strongly entrenched throughout the country, others see the First Lady's program as an opportunity to move into new areas. Gregory Calhoun, CEO/President of Calhoun Foods, a chain that operates throughout Alabama and Tennessee, noted that his company will now be able to expand in Alabama: "For the last two years, I've been trying to get into the Birmingham market. With the help of the First Lady, I'll be able to do that with pride."

Meanwhile, drugstore chain Walgreens (WAG) plans to offer more whole fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods in about 1,000 locations.

Jeffrey Brown, President and CEO of Philadelphia-based Brown's SuperStores, noted the close relationship between food retailers and the communities that they serve: "When you have an independent entrepreneur, their interest in their own communities is paramount." According to Brown, this initiative will help inspire creative solutions to the nation's obesity crisis: "Over the next five years, I foresee hundreds of grocery entrepreneurs jumping in with solutions."

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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How much will this "tobe" failed program cost the American public? If there was a commercial need, someone would have already filled it. These stores will be heavily subsidized and still not work. The concept is admirable, but not from the government. Remember, these are the same folks that have spent almost $300,000 on stimulus jobs, plus whatever the company pays the employee.
Just another failed government program from do gooders! If there is a need and a value, the private sector will fill it!

July 22 2011 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why is she going to wal mart they are part of the reason we are where we are at. They are responsable for shipping more jogs to china than anyone else. I know that all the stores have made in china stuff but wallmart started it in a big way. Oh I forgot I do not like Michelle because she and her husband have a great education and the only time she was proud to be a American is when her husband was president.

July 22 2011 at 4:06 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

No Michelle is not really fat considering she use to be a man ....

July 22 2011 at 2:18 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Barack ! ,,,,uh yes Michelle ? Barack how could you embarrass me in France !....... But Michelle honey I was just helping the woman behind me come down the steps ....Barack dont give me that , that woman was already half way down the stairs ..... I saw youBarack and you were looking directly at her behind ! Uhh But Michelle baby I only looked at her byonce once ..I meant I was looking at her shoes . Dont give me that Barack you can fool Americans but not me ....I want you to make a law barack to tax any husband that looks at another womans behind ! But Boss ,,Uh I meant michelle .....You better do as I say Barack ! .....But Michelle I planned to buy you a dress just like the one she was wearing and maybe some high heels ....Barack you have 3 seconds to get your boney ass out of here ....But but Michelle ............Barack You got 2 more seconds Barack ......Thats right Run Barack ...he knows he better run .......emabarrass me like that sh_ t .......

July 22 2011 at 2:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Is it my imagination or has the first lady of the immaculated put on a pound or two? just like them, ( the first couple) do as I say and not as I do. I do hope the folks in the "food deserts" get a Trader Joes.

July 21 2011 at 10:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Hot Dog !!! Lobsters acomin' to da Capital

July 21 2011 at 9:58 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Don't forget the vacation to Africa where at least she could have taken illegal alien Aunt Zituni back to Kenya and left her.

July 21 2011 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
LEE Resolution

My guess is that the Walmart execs, the grocery chains are paying her lip service.

Walmart isn't going to make a move without planning it for months in advance.

They're not about to pay much attention to what Michelle wants them to do, especially after her hubby's track record with the economy.

July 21 2011 at 7:16 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Michelle Obama wants to bring healthy food to people who do not have access to fresh food. I wonder how these poor people are going to pay for this food and how in God's name does she think its going to add thousands of jobs?

Another failed program wasting federal dollars...she should go on vacation and stay there.

July 21 2011 at 6:48 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to fmirabelli's comment

I agree I am not in poverty and when I go tot the store I can not afford fresh foods.

July 22 2011 at 4:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

that is one dumb women

July 21 2011 at 5:59 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hamiltonjerryr's comment

Ivy League lawyer coming from Chicago--what would one expect ??

July 21 2011 at 10:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply