BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Wal-Mart here is going with the grain.
The world's largest retailer is encouraging customers to shop the bread aisle by broadcasting public service announcements emphasizing that enriched white bread — along with leafy greens and orange juice — contain folic acid, which can prevent birth defects.
Produced by the Grain Foods Foundation as a sponsor of the March of Dimes, the 30-second PSAs are planned to run from today through June 24 in all of Wal-Mart's 3,000 national stores via the company's in-store television network. They are also running on major network affiliates throughout the country. Wal-Mart did not respond to SN's request for comment.
The PSAs are part of a major GFF campaign to rebuild bread sales lost from the years when low-carb dieting was in vogue. The effort stresses that folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three weeks of a pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant.
Of the 4 million women who give birth in the United States each year, some 3,000 babies are born with neural tube defects. Since 1998, when the U.S. mandated folic acid fortification of enriched grains, neural tube defects, including spina bifida, declined by 36% in Hispanics and 34% in white non-Hispanics, according to data provided by the GFF.
Yet many women are still unaware of the connection between folic acid and healthy babies. Research shows that about 26% of non-Hispanic women did not know that folic acid helps to prevent birth defects, while 36% of Hispanic women (who are more likely to have a child born with neural tube defects) did not associate folic acid with birth-defect prevention.
Food stores like Wal-Mart are the ideal location to educate the public about the connection, as most adults trust nutritional advice provided at a supermarket, said Judi Adams, president of Ridgway, Colo.-based GFF, a three-year-old organization formed by milling and baking companies to promote the nutritional benefits of grain-based foods.
“We see the value of going into the store to deliver our message,” Adams told SN.
Timed to run during Women's Health Month this month, the Wal-Mart ads star Susie Castillo, an MTV “VJ” and Miss USA 2003.
“If you're even thinking of having a baby someday, start eating foods rich in folic acid today,” Castillo says in the ads.
“The PSAs remind women not to cut out white bread in their 20s, long before they're most likely to have children,” said Kristin Patterson, account director, Mullen Public Relations, Wenham, Mass., the GFF's agency and creator of the ads.
The ads come at a time when commercial bread sales are showing growth. Dollar sales in all outlets (excluding supercenters) rose 3.27% to $6 billion for the 52 weeks ending May 20, according to Information Resources Inc., Chicago.
By running the PSAs, Wal-Mart joins Kroger, Safeway and Publix as GFF retail supporters.
Kroger is most active when it comes to retail promotions. The retailer has run several in-store events featuring floor decals, aisle signage and in-store radio messages.
Most recently, it tied in with the GFF's “Bread. It's Essential.” campaign and Healthy Baby Month in January by featuring signage in the commercial bread aisle, as well as promotional messages via in-store radio.
“The path to a healthy pregnancy starts in the bread aisle,” the in-store signage read.
The initiative proved to be successful, as commercial bread dollar sales in 2,500 Kroger stores in January 2007 were 7.8% higher than they were in January 2006, according to the GFF.
A Kroger spokesman did not return a phone call from SN.
Among other efforts, Kroger also placed floor decals in the peanut butter aisle in November 2005 to coincide with National Bread Month.
“The health benefits of bread are remarkable. So are its abilities to keep peanut butter and jelly together,” the floor decals read.