Consumer Confidential: Wal-Mart gets healthy, Amazon streams, Arby's seeks help
--Wal-Mart is getting healthy. The world's largest retailer says it will join First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign by stocking healthier foods. Wal-Mart says it will reformulate thousands of packaged food items by 2015, reducing the salt content by 25% and sugar content by 10%, and will remove all remaining industrially produced trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils. It will also make labeling of food products clearer. "No family should have to choose between food that is healthier for them and food they can afford," said Bill Simon, Wal-Mart's chief executive of U.S. stores. The move will likely have a profound effect on U.S. food supplies. With its retail muscle, Wal-Mart will be able to push more food companies into producing healthier products. The first lady called this a victory for parents and children. She's right.
--It's clear that the future of movie rentals is online. At least Amazon.com has come to that conclusion. The online retail powerhouse will buy the remaining shares of Lovefilm International, a Britain-based DVD and online film-rental service, to compete against the likes of Netflix. Lovefilm rents movies and TV shows by mail and also streams content over the Net. Netflix expanded into Canada last year with a streaming-only service and may head further afield this year. Amazon appears to be coming in the other direction, establishing a European footprint and then advancing into the U.S. The company's DVD sales already give it a strong relationship with movie studios.
--First A&W, now Arby's? Wendy's/Arby's Group says it's considering "strategic alternatives" for Arby's, including a possible sale. The company believes it can do better by building on its Wendy's fast-food brand, rather than keeping Arby's afloat as well. If a sale goes through, Arby's would join A&W and Long John Silver's on the auction block. The latter two chains were put up for sale this week by parent Yum Brands, which decided it wanted to focus instead on its KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell enterprises. Could it be that this shakeout in the fast-food industry is a sign of consumers' growing awareness of the need to eat healthy? That'd be nice to think.
-- David Lazarus
Photo: A Wal-Mart shopper. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times