Corporate public images are usually made, and then maintained.  

Think about corporations like Apple, Boeing, or Disney and what their corporate clothes say to us. It usually doesn’t change much from year to year.

Now think of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., also known simply as Walmart.

It’s been the:

  • Destroyer of Main Street America.
  • Big box store every NIMBY loves to hate
  • Retailer with two million workers without union cards
  • Biggest recipient of corporate welfare
  • Most efficient supply chain for goods originating from China
  • Green builder of enviro-friendly stores
  • Better source of fruits and vegetable than Whole Foods


And now we have Walmart enlisting in the food police, promising First Lady Michelle Obama it will reduce sugar by 10 percent, sodium by 25 percent and eliminate trans fats in its store brands by 2015.

These changing images just keep coming. Each time it changes it clothes, Walmart does keep low prices in place. And the company keeps growing. Last year 8,400 Walmart outlets did $405 billion in retail sales.

Walmart is now offering Mrs. Obama lower-priced fruits and vegetables and the location of specially sized stores for urban food deserts; all as part of the company’s strategy to bust into urban areas. 

Until very recently they’ve been kept out of major cities like Chicago, but are making process through a bundle of strategies up to and including signing project labor agreements with construction unions.

With its ability to change, Walmart must be giving its opponents fits these days. It remains a corporation that can do things on such a scale and with such efficiency that government cannot match it. That’s what it’s done with its low-cost pricing of generic drugs.

As its suppliers know too well, Walmart really knows how to squeeze. It’s a tactic it uses not only up and down its supply lines, but also in building stores. It often will not come into a new community unless the city or town shares in the cost, usually by giving up the new sales tax revenue generated by the store for several years.

Walmart is suited up to go after something else it wants, and carrying some water for the First Lady is just part of the company’s strategy. Rare as it is, “the Chicago way” this time might even be good for nutrition.

Photo of First Lady Michelle Obama courtesy Obama Foodorama