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Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation’s Marketplace pledge

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), whose members include 16 of the nation’s leading consumer packaged goods (CPG) food and beverage manufacturers, voluntarily committed to collectively remove 1 trillion calories from their products by 2012 (against a 2007 baseline), and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015. The pledge is designed to reduce the calorie gap commensurate with the HWCF companies’ role in the US diet.

In 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) awarded the first of four grants to the University of North Carolina team led by Barry Popkin to lead the evaluation of the HWCF companies’ “marketplace” pledge to reduce annual calories by 1.5 trillion by the end of 2015. This included a layout of the methods in a baseline study and evaluations of the impact of the HWCF Commitment on food sales and purchases.

In addition to supporting the independent evaluation of the HWCF commitment, RWJF convened a group of expert advisers to confidentially review and consult on the design and interpretation of the core evaluation analyses. The Evaluation Advisory Committee (EAC) consists of independent scientists and experts in the field of obesity, nutrition, economics, and population surveillance. EAC members assist in the design and review of the overall evaluation strategy, methods, analyses, and results and review annual reports and manuscripts for peer-reviewed publications.

Role of Retailers

We have been engaged in a number of studies related to retailer behavior. In the US, two major sets of studies described below have been undertaken to date, with the Berkeley tax evaluation representing a third one in how retailers pass on an SSB excise tax to consumers.

The first set of studies focused on the types of retailers US household do their food shopping at and the food and nutrients purchased. In this we categorized all US retailers into seven mutually exclusive categories: warehouse Clubs (e.g., Costco, Sam’s); Mass Merchandisers–supercenters (e.g., Walmart, Super-Target); Grocery Chains (e.g., Kroger, Safeway); Non-Chain Grocery; Convenience–Drug–Dollar (e.g., Seven Eleven, CVS, Dollar General); Ethnic–Specialty; and Others (e.g., department stores, book stores).  We have studied overall associations of each type of store with nutrient quality; examined overall shopping clusters for all Americans with a greater focus on low income and minority households;  and then explored the nutrient profile of US households with each shopping cluster.  We found that almost no US household shop in exclusively one type of store. Rather, in the past decade,  there are three distinct food-shopping clusters of store-types that US households do their food shopping at: In 2012, 50% of households primarily (but not exclusively) shop at grocery stores, 23% of households primarily shop at mass merchandisers (e.g.,  Walmart and Target), and 27% of households split their purchases among multiple store types including both large and small retailers. Moreover, since the early 2000s, the distribution across these three clusters has shifted away from primarily grocery stores towards the other two clusters.

A second set of studies focused on Walmart©*. Walmart© is the US’ largest food retailer with over 80% of households shopping there in 2012 and is one of the largest recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spending. In 2011, Walmart announced a Healthier Food Initiative with the stated intent of helping consumers make healthier food purchases. We have examined overall nutrient profile of Walmart consumers food purchases, the factors associated with shopping at Walmart with a focus on low income and minority households, and evaluated the impact of the Healthier Food Initiative on nutrient profiles of Walmart food purchases. Using data on household packaged food purchases before and after implementation of this initiative, we examined whether Walmart’s efforts improved the nutritional profile of packaged food purchases at Walmart compared to other comparative chain retailers.

* Note: These studies were not supported or funded by Walmart or any of its competitors.