Walmart's CEO says consumers using semaglutide-based drugs for weight loss are buying less food, which could have an economic impact.
Wegovy and Ozempic are two of several semaglutide-based medications healthcare providers can prescribe to treat diabetes or aid weight loss. Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide 1(GLP-1) receptor agonist that reduces appetite, increases feelings of fullness, and slows the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract.
These weight loss drugs have exploded in popularity over the past year, becoming the hottest trend in weight loss among celebrities and the general population. The demand for Ozempic, Wegovy, and similar weight loss drugs in the United States has led to an astonishing 300% increase in sales between 2020 and 2022, as reported by healthcare analytics firm Trilliant Health.
While this surge may be promising for the pharmaceutical industry, it has brought about an unexpected consequence for Walmart.
Walmart, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail giant, has observed a noticeable downturn in food sales, which may be attributed to the growing popularity of drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy. John Furner, the CEO of Walmart's U.S. operations, revealed in a recent Bloomberg interview that the company has seen a shift in consumer behavior.
"We definitely do see a slight change compared to the total population, we do see a slight pullback in overall basket," Furner explained. "Just fewer units, slightly fewer calories."
To understand this shift better, Walmart has begun analyzing sales patterns using anonymized data from its shopper populations. This data allows the retailer to examine purchasing behaviors among individuals taking these appetite-suppressing drugs and compare them with those who are not.
However, Furner emphasized that it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions regarding the impact of these drugs on consumer habits.
In addition, it appears this downturn in food sales may potentially affect other companies. For example, the CEO of the company responsible for popular snacks like Pringles and Cheez-Its disclosed that they are actively studying the potential influence of these drugs on dietary behaviors.
Yet, despite its popularity, semaglutide has come under fire for its potentially harmful side effects. Most recently, a University of British Columbia study found that people using these GLP-1 agonists for weight loss may have a higher risk of pancreatitis, bowel obstructions, and stomach paralysis.
In addition, FDA recently initiated a product label change for Ozempic, warning consumers the drug can cause ileus, a condition that can cause blocked intestines.
- Trilliant Health. 2023 Trends Shaping the Health Economy Report.
- Bloomberg. Ozempic Is Making People Buy Less Food, Walmart Says.