Teaming with first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, Supervalu, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and other retailers have pledged to open or expand more than 1,500 stores in communities that don’t  have access to fresh produce and other healthy foods.

Obama announced the commitments at a White House event July 20.

The retailers estimate that they will create tens of thousands of jobs and serve approximately 9.5 million people in these communities, according to a White House news release.

The government estimates 23.5 million Americans live in so-called food deserts, defined as low-income regions that lack access to affordable and healthy food, according to the release. Limited access to healthy food, research has shown, can lead to poor diets, and higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases.

“The commitments we’re announcing today have the potential to be a game-changer for kids and communities all across this country,” Obama said at the news conference.

“We can give people all the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise, but if parents can’t buy the food they need to prepare those meals because their only options for groceries are the gas station or the local minimart, then all that is just talk,” she said.  “Let’s Move is about giving parents real choices about the food their kids are eating, and today’s announcement means that more parents will have a fresh food retailer right in their community."

The first lady announced the Healthy Food Financing Initiative in February 2010, but the program has not yet been funded by Congress. The program is designed to provide seed money for retail investment in food deserts.

The White House 2012 budget proposes $330 million in funding for the multi-year initiative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Health and Human Services and the Treasury Department.

Retail commitments announced by the White House on July 20 include:

  • Supervalu plans to open 250 Save-A-Lot stores over the next five years in food deserts. The company estimates the new stores will serve about 3.75 million people and create 6,000 new jobs.
  • Walgreens plans to offer fruits and vegetables and other healthy items in at least 1,000 stores, serving nearly 4.8 million people. More than 45% of Walgreens stores are located in underserved communities, according to the release.
  • Walmart says it will open or expand up to 300 stores by 2016, serving more than 800,000 people in rural and urban areas with limited access to grocery stores.

        Regional supermarket expansions include Brown's Super Store, Klein's Family Markets and Calhoun Grocer. California FreshWorks Fund, a $200 million loan program designed to eliminate food deserts, also pledged support.