Walgreens: Creating Food Oases Among Food Deserts


Last fall I wrote a blog post about a woman in Chicago, LaDonna Redmond, who is addressing the food desert problem there by offering produce from urban farms at a market called Graffiti and Grub. Now, according to The New York Times, the drugstore chain, Walgreens, is selling an expanded selection of food–including fresh fruits and vegetables–at 10 Chicago locations selected because they were in food deserts. 

Food deserts are usually in low-income urban neighborhoods laden with fast-food  restaurants and convenience stores selling processed food. There is rarely a produce market because residents in food deserts “are not providing enough profit to be offered more healthful grub,” says The Times.

A study done in Chicago by Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group showed the city’s food desert boundaries and linked block-by-block grocery-access data to food deserts. The study got the attention of Chicago politicians, resulting in a request to Walgreens from Mayor Richard Daley’s office.

While a drugstore may not seem like the obvious solution to food deserts, they are ubiquitous, making them good candidates. About 25% of the participating Walgreens stores’ square footage is now dedicated to food. And other drugstore chains, such as Duane Reade and CVS, are now offering more healthful choices in food.

The Times said that Gallagher’s goal, ultimately, is to increase choice. “She is less concerned about purging food deserts of fast food or other processed-sustenance options than she is with adding more healthful options to the menu.” The Walgreens experiment provides an oasis of fresh food where none existed before.

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2 responses to “Walgreens: Creating Food Oases Among Food Deserts

  1. I lived in Chicago for 25 years, and this is something I give Richie Daley credit for. While my neighborhood offered countless food options–major grocery stores, specialty stores, farmers’ markets–many neighborhoods had few options for fresh food within walking distance, but plenty of fast food stores and small stores offering processed foods at absurdly high prices.

    When Walgreens decided to try to fill the void, it was big news in Chicago, and I saw the offerings at one of the Walgreens I went to. There were salads, fresh fruit, and fruit juices. Admittedly more expensive than being able to buy these ingredients at a major grocery chain store, but as affordable as the chips and sodas Walgreens also sells.

    The hope is that, if Walgreens makes decent sales on these items, other stores will be encouraged to offer more fresh food in these neglected areas.

    So, bravo to Walgreens for pioneering the establishment of oases in food deserts!

    • I agree, Pamela: Bravo to Walgreens! Thanks for sharing your insight and personal experience as a former Chicago resident!

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