Baking should be wary of Wal-Mart initiative

by Josh Sosland
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With release this week of the 2010 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s likely that attention will fade rapidly from a Jan. 20 initiative announced by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to cut trans fats, sodium and added sugar from a number of food categories. But because Wal-Mart announced an ambitious timeline (less than four years) for the change and because of the retailing giant’s unparalleled clout, the endeavor merits careful attention. Unfortunately, a close look at each element of the initiative should give bakers serious concern. In the case of industrial trans fats, Wal-Mart is seeking complete elimination by 2015, citing recommendations that the public reduce intake to 1.1% of total calories, from 2.6% in 2004-06 when the most recent data were available. But with the major reformulations that have occurred since 2004-06 (it’s difficult to find a food product in the store with trans fats on the nutrition label these days), Wal-Mart is setting an end point target without have a true idea of the starting point. In the case of added sugar, Wal-Mart has targeted grain-based foods, dairy desserts and fruit drinks for reductions even though none of these products accounts for even 10% of added sugar in the diet. Carbonated soft drinks and confectionery, the largest sources of added sugar in the diet (together accounting for about half the added sugar in the diet), are not included in the initiative. How is that possible if Wal-Mart’s objective is to meaningfully reduce intake of added sugars? Finally, grain-based foods are highlighted Wal-Mart target to cut sodium by 25% in key categories. Roughly 40% of sodium intake is pinned on grain-based foods, ranging from bread to waffles. The sodium initiative is perhaps most worrisome for baking. Recently published data indicate consumers are slow to embrace reduced sodium products, even “new-age” versions. Instead, if they want to cut back on sodium, they avoid categories they perceive as high in sodium, such as soup. If consumers increasingly view grain-based foods as a major sodium source, such avoidance would be disastrous for baking.

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