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Wal-Mart CEO sees recession change consumer habits

Wal-Mart Stores Inc's chief executive said on Sunday he sees changes in the habits of the chain's customers as they contend with the recession, and also said Wal-Mart had offered to help the incoming Obama administration with health care and environmental issues.

"The number one issue today is (consumers') concern about their job," Lee Scott said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"In our pharmacy group, we have increases in prescription drugs, but not at the same rate it was," he said. "What we're seeing is an increase in self-treatment."

Strained consumers are also changing the food they buy at Wal-Mart, Scott said. "We're seeing an increase in food storage as people are cooking more at home," he said. They are "using leftovers more extensively," and buying more frozen food.

Small businesses are also changing how they buy goods, he said. Cash-strapped restaurant owners are visiting the stores more frequently to buy supplies as one day's cash flow allows them to buy supplies for the following day.

Scott, who will retire in early 2009, also said he sees a role for Wal-Mart in the debate around issues such as the environment and health care, which he has previously said "profoundly" affect the chain's shoppers and business.

Wal-Mart has "reached out" to President-elect Obama's team to work on the US health care and energy issues, he said, adding that people critical of Wal-Mart's involvement in political debates were "on the wrong track."

"These are not times to be self-serving," he said. "We have a responsibility to participate." (Reuters)