Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., said today it will reduce prices on fresh fruits and vegetables and lower sodium in meats, cheese and other foods as part of a broader effort backed by First Lady Michelle Obama to sell healthier foods.

Luncheon meats, hot dogs, bacon and other fresh beef, pork and poultry products are among categories targeted for 25-percent reductions in sodium content by 2015, Wal-Mart said in a statement. The largest U.S. food retailer will push its suppliers to reformulate thousands of packaged food items to reduce unhealthy fats, salts and sugars.

Wal-Mart also plans to cut sodium in dairy products such as processed cheese, cottage cheese, semi- and hard cheese.

“Suppliers will be asked to voluntarily fill out a scorecard annually so that Wal-Mart can assess and report our progress towards our target,” the Bentonville, Ark.-based company said.

Wal-Mart said the initiative builds on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity and improve availability of healthier foods in areas lacking supermarkets.

While government dietary guidelines recommend the consumption of less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day, Americans are estimated to consume 3,400 milligrams a day, on average.

“We are committed to working with suppliers, government and non-governmental organizations to provide solutions that help Americans eat healthier and live a better life,” Bill Simon, chief executive of Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations, said in today’s statement.

Wal-Mart didn’t say how much fruit and vegetable prices will be lowered, though the company doesn’t expect to reduce what it pays to fresh produce suppliers. Rather, Wal-Mart plans of offset reduced store prices with higher sales volume and buying more products directly from growers, according to a statement.

If the price-cutting effort is successful, Wal-Mart customers may save $1 billion a year on fresh fruits and vegetables, said Leslie Dach, Wal-Mart’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs.

“Through a variety of sourcing, pricing and transportation and logistics initiatives we believe we can drive unnecessary costs out of the supply chain and result in even lower prices on fresh produce for our customers,” Dach said in the statement.

“For instance, we’re building more direct relationships with farmers, a move which we will generate more income for farmers and lower, more consistent prices for our customers,” Dach said.

Over the past year, Wal-Mart has accelerated efforts to sell more food as well as promote broader social causes. In October, Wal-Mart said it planned to double its sales of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables in the U.S. over the next five years as part of an effort to support sustainable agriculture worldwide.

Wal-Mart also plans to open as many as 40 small and medium-sized stores in the U.S. this year as it expands into urban areas.

In Wal-Mart’s fiscal 2010, groceries sold at U.S. stores generated almost $132 billion in revenue, or 51% of total sales, according to company filings. As of mid-2010, Wal-Mart had 4,371 U.S. stores, including 2,784 Supercenters, which sell groceries, and 606 Sam’s Club warehouse locations.

By Bruce Blythe, Business Editor, Vance Publishing