Wal-Mart Serves Free Ice Cream to an Obese Nation

06/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Give Your Workers Better Health Insurance Instead!

It's free ice cream day at Wal-Mart today! What could be wrong with that?


Wal-Mart wants Americans to stop going to ice cream parlors or restaurants for ice cream. For the second year in a row, Wal-Mart is getting sweet headlines in the media for giving out free ice cream. According to the company, "From 11am until 4pm on Saturday, May 30th 2009, Wal-Mart will be giving away free full-serving sizes of various ice cream products at supercenters around the nation."

Consumers will be able to choose between a Dibs Snack Bag, a Blue Bunny Aspen Frozen Yogurt Granola Bar, or a Ben & Jerry's Flipped Out Cup. This is the second year that Wal-Mart has promoted this ice cream giveaway. Last year, on May 18, 2008, Wal-Mart sponsored what it called "the world's largest ice cream social." Here's how their PR firm described the company's event last year:

"As consumers look to Wal-Mart for savings during tough economic times, they'll find sweet relief on "Sundae," May 18 - and all summer - with the retailer's low prices on ice cream and sundae toppings. In fact, Wal-Mart estimates that its shoppers will spend nearly six times less on a family ice cream social at home when compared to ice cream desserts at many restaurants and ice cream parlors."

Wal-Mart set up this event to steal product market share from local restaurants and ice cream parlors. In 2008, the ice cream giveaway was held at more than 2,500 of the company's supercenters. Wal-Mart said it would have on hand "more than 5,000 ice cream scoopers to build an estimated 1 million free ice cream sundaes, complete with whipped cream and other toppings." This year, in a cost-cutting move, the 5,000 ice cream scoopers are gone, the sundaes are gone, and Wal-Mart is passing out pre-packaged "ice cream products."

"In tough economic times, our customers face tough choices. That's why we are working hard to make sure summer costs less at Wal-Mart," a Wal-Mart spokesman said last year. "Our customers can save more than 50% on their favorite summer desserts - including apple pie a la mode, ice cream cones and brownie sundaes - by getting all the ingredients for a family ice cream social from Wal-Mart instead of taking an expensive trip to an ice cream shop or restaurant." Last year, the giant retailer compared its ice cream offerings to sundaes, cones "and other cool treats" at some restaurants and ice cream shops. According to Wal-Mart: the ingredients for 10 two-scoop ice cream cones cost under $7 at Wal-Mart - the same number of two-scoop cones at a national ice cream shop could cost nearly six times more ($40). According to Wal-Mart researchers, you can get all the ingredients to make 10 brownie sundaes for under $10 at Wal-Mart -- a national restaurant chain might charge nearly five times more ($48.90). Even that most American of desserts -- apple pie a la mode -- for twenty people can be purchased for under $18, while 20 apple pies at a national family restaurant chain could cost over four times more ($79.60).

Despite the fact that Americans are suffering from an epidemic of obesity, hypertension and other heart disease, Wal-Mart is busy pushing ice cream and brownie sundaes. "Finding ways to stretch your dollar doesn't have to mean cutting out tasty pleasures in life like ice cream," Wal-Mart explains. "We're committed to helping families save money and giving them affordable access to the products they need to create memorable moments this summer and beyond."

It would be one thing for Wal-Mart to simply thank shoppers who spend thousands of dollars there by giving them a Blue Bunny frozen yogurt bar once a year. But the retailer is pointedly using this ice cream promotion as a way of steering people away from competitors, like restaurants, ice cream parlors, and other grocery stores. The company would better serve the public by giving its own workers something financially sweet. The company could 'create memorable moments' by giving their workers a summer cash bonus instead of just whipped cream.

Distributing unhealthy food in and of itself is probably nothing novel for Wal-Mart -- but given the fact that tens of thousands of its workers rely on public health programs, like Medicaid, it would be more refreshing to see the company reduce its health insurance copayments for its own employees so that they would not turn to tax-supported health plans by default.

If Wal-Mart is committed to helping families save money, they should start by giving their own workers access to affordable health care. Forget the Blue Bunny bars, Flipped Out Cup, and 5,000 scoopers. Wal-Mart should sweeten the deal for its 'associates' and stop trying to steal sales from ice cream parlors.

Readers can call Wal-Mart customer service at 1-800 Wal-Mart and leave the following message: "Like many other consumers, I'm not going to stop by to claim my free ice cream Flipped Out Cup---but I would like you to take the money it cost to create this national free ice cream day and donate that to your associates health insurance program instead. Taxpayers don't want to pay for the health insurance of your workers. In many states, Wal-Mart employees are the largest corporate users of programs like Medicaid, costing the public millions of dollars. I would rather see Wal-Mart give its own people better health care coverage, than to pick up an frozen treat at your supercenters."

If you go for your free ice cream bar, be sure to stop by Wal-Mart's in-store health clinic for a free cholesterol blood test.

Al Norman is the founder of sprawl-busters. He is the author of Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart. His website is