Walgreens brings fresh produce to "food deserts"

February 15, 2011

In 10 of its Chicago-area stores, Walgreens is piloting a program to provide healthy food options such as fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats and fish, eggs, and whole-grain cereals and pastas in its stores.

In 10 of its Chicago-area stores, Walgreens is piloting a program to provide healthy food options such as fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats and fish, eggs, and whole-grain cereals and pastas in its stores. In fact, it is carrying 750 new food items in each of the 10 stores, which are primarily in the south and west sides of Chicago.

Walgreens' executives chose those locations to pilot food stores because they are in urban areas where there are no supermarkets or other retail locations selling healthy food, leaving neighborhood residents few options beyond high-calorie fast foods or processed food products sold by convenience stores.

Walgreens started rolling out the redesigned Chicago stores last year. "We are focused on health and wellness, and this is one more way we can help improve the health outcomes of customers and patients in the area," Whetstone said.

According to Whetstone, the biggest challenge connected with adding fresh and frozen food to drugstores is determining the right product mix to serve the community.

"So far, we are hearing very positive feedback from customers about the offerings, and they are pretty vocal about letting our store managers know what items they would like to see more of," Whetstone said.

While Walgreens' executives are considering adding the full line of "healthy foods" to other Walgreens' stores, they have not yet announced locations in other cities. "The concept of a food desert is not exclusive to Chicago ... [but] Chicago is the only city with this pilot at this time," Whetstone said.

However, that may soon change. According to a recent Reuters report, at the company's annual meeting in January, Walgreens executives announced a plan to bring similar initiatives to some 300 to 500 stores in the company's chain of more than 7,600.