The Washington Post

First Lady, grocers commit to building stores in ‘food deserts’

This 2009 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama as she exercises with a hula hoop during a healthy kids fair at the White House. (Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP)

Participating retailers include Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, Brown’s Super Stores in Philadelphia and Calhoun Foods, which has locations in Alabama and Tennessee. According to the Partnership for a Healthier America, roughly 6.5 million children live more than a mile from a grocery store.

“When it comes to feeding families and enriching the life of a community, America’s supermarkets and grocery stores are among our nation’s greatest assets,” says Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer of the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group.  “As evidenced by the commitment articulated today, the food retail industry continues and underscores its proud role in improving the access to healthier food for those in underserved areas.”

Walmart alone said it plans to open between 275 and 300 stores in underserved neighborhoods by 2016, serving a projected 800,000 people. The stores would also employ more than 40,000 people.

“Every American should be able to buy healthy food at a price they can afford,” Walmart Executive Vice President Leslie Dach said. “How can a parent serve their kids healthier meals when they can’t even get to a grocery store?”

Historically, grocery chains have been wary of opening in low-income areas because of high operating and building costs, according to a recent FMI study. But recently the industry has taken a second look at these markets as other locations become saturated.

“This is a business initiative,” Dach said.“ It’s part of the growth plan.”

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.

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