Can a discount change consumer choices for the better?
Walmart and healthcare insurance provider Humana are betting yes.
In a program touted as a first-of-its-kind partnership, Humana customers will get a 5% discount on healthy food choices at Walmart.
Beginning on Oct. 15, more than one million HumanaVitality members who shop at Walmart will be eligible for a new program which offers a five percent savings on products that qualify for Walmart’s Great For You icon, including fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.
This program is asking, will consumers buy more healthy food if we reduce the price barriers?
Which brings up what I think it a far more interesting question.
Why is it that apples are costlier than chips in the first place?
It’s not that the apples are expensive, really. It’s that the chips are cheaper, because of subsidies.
The question I’d like to see answered is: What do consumer buying choices look like when incentives for making healthy food affordable are evenly matched with subsidies that allow junk food to be so cheap?
While this is a little afield from my normal Sustainability posts, bear with me.
What if the question were instead, “Can a discount change consumer choices for the greener?”
It takes us to the same place.
Like, say, with renewable energy sources.
We could just as easily ask : Why is clean, renewable power costlier than fossil-based fuels in the first place?
The answer is, it’s not. Fossil-fuels are cheaper because they are subsidized.
Worldwide, fossil-fuel is subsidized at six times the rate for renewables, according to the 2011 World Energy Outlook.
But grid parity–the point when renewable energy costs less than fossil-based fuels is coming, due to rapid advances in renewable energy technologies. It’s already a reality today in India, Spain and Italy.
(Update! Solar is cheaper than fossil in Massachusetts too.)
The playing field will look different once apples–I mean renewables–are on an even playing field with less-healthy, less-sustainable choices.
So, back to Walmart and Humana. What’s in it for them to discount apples?
If the bet pans out (and the research says it will): healthier, happier, loyal customers all around.
I support most anything that encourages consumers to buy healthier food. (If today’s Mark Bittman column linking Alzheimer’s disease to junk food doesn’t turn you off corn chips, I don’t know what will.)
I’m hopeful that the research that comes out of this partnership will help move Americans to buy more apples.
And by extension, support a shift towards supporting economically prudent, sustainable choices in other arenas, like energy.
Thanks to Jonathan Low for his post that alerted me to this story.