BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Visitors to Wal-Mart Supercenters here recently got a chance to pick up yet one more thing during their shopping trips: nutrition tips.
The retail giant teamed with Gerber Products and the state of Arkansas to pilot an in-store counseling program at 57 Wal-Mart Supercenters in Arkansas that included nutrition information and product displays.
On Sept. 21 and 27, Gerber-sponsored nutrition counselors offered guidance about infant and toddler feeding. The event took place at tables set up in high-traffic areas of the store.
People who visited the counseling tables received a free copy of "Healthy Arkansas: Better State of Health," a pocket-size guidebook from the state that provides tips for healthy living. Included in the 150-page publication is a section that Gerber developed on infant and toddler nutrition. About 17,000 English versions and 5,500 Spanish versions were distributed over the two-day event, according to Gerber.
Participants also received Gerber's Feeding Guidelines brochure; materials about Gerber's "Promise" program, a new initiative designed to establish healthy eating habits; and magnets displaying the Gerber motto, "Eat a Rainbow."
Since the focus was nutrition education, product sampling was not included. However, several new Gerber products were on display, including Mini Fruits & Mini Veggies and Fruit Splashers.
Gerber hopes to expand the program to other retailers and states. Wal-Mart is open to discussing the possibility of being involved outside Arkansas, said Karen Burk, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
"Providing information about nutrition and healthy eating is another way for us to provide a one-stop-shopping destination for our customers," she said.
Arkansas was chosen to lead the effort because of its above-average obesity rates. About 60% of adult residents and 40% of children are overweight or obese, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.
"These children are going to have enormous problems later in life," Huckabee told SN.
Good nutrition is close to Huckabee's heart. Once obese, he shed 100 pounds and has embraced the cause of promoting healthy living. In 2004, he launched "Healthy Arkansas," a program designed to improve the health of Arkansans through physical activity and nutrition. Under his leadership, Arkansas in 2003 became the first state in the nation to require body mass index measurements for all of its school-age children.
"Having Gov. Huckabee involved lent a great deal of credibility to the program," Burk said.
In concert with its Wal-Mart/Arkansas partnership, Gerber is pledging to help reduce the number of overweight children ages 2 to 5 by 50% by 2010. As part of that pledge, the company next year will introduce 100 new products for infants and toddlers, Kurt Schmidt, Gerber president and chief executive, told SN. He declined to provide further details.
Gerber, a part of the Consumer Health Division of Novartis AG, is involved in other programs aimed at improving infants' and children's diets. In 2002, it launched a consumer education campaign called "Start Healthy, Stay Healthy" to help parents make better food choices.
Gerber research shows that one in four American toddlers eat french fries every day, and one-fourth of 19- to 24-month-olds eat no fruits or vegetables in a given day.
"If children are given an exposure to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables at an early age, they're likely to follow good eating habits when they get older," Schmidt said.
The company also recently kicked off its "The Promise" program, which encourages providing five servings of fruits and vegetables each day; respecting a baby's hunger and fullness cues; and being active for at least 30 minutes each day. Parents who sign up at www.gerber.com/ promise receive a Promise pin to remind them of their commitment.