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Walgreens launches fresh foods foray

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. —For millions of time-strapped Americans looking for an easy dinner solution on their way home from work, Walgreens soon will deliver a message in many of its stores: We can be that solution.

The chain is laying plans for an expanded selection of prepared and fresh foods in some stores, and has hired veteran food merchant Jim Jensen to fill a new post as divisional merchandise manager in charge of fresh foods. Jensen, who reports to divisional VP and consumables category manager Steve Broughton, last served as director of fresh foods for Tesco’s Fresh and Easy Markets U.S. division, and spent 14 years with 7-Eleven’s fresh foods division.

At Walgreens, Jensen is spearheading a move into “grab-and-go meals, salads, sandwiches and the like,” a company source said. Jensen also will head up a probable launch by the company into its own private-label food brand, including what Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Washington called “meal components.” Walgreens already has been in negotiations with such major food suppliers as Nestlé S.A., Sara Lee and Unilever to extend its front-end offerings.

One impetus for the move, Washington said, is the fact that 8-out-of-10 Americans “don’t know what they’re going to have for dinner at 4 p.m. We already have some fresh foods, like eggs, milk and cheese,” she told Drug Store News, “but we are looking for opportunities to put more of these types of offerings into our stores…to capture that on-the-go consumer looking for a quick lunch, or for something simple for dinner. We look at this as another way to leverage our convenient corner locations.”

In an interview with the Bloomberg news service, VP merchandising Bryan Pugh acknowledged, “We won’t get our customer every day on the way home, but if we could get 50% of our customers one day a week…that would do wonders for our sales.”

Walgreens’ foray into fresh and prepared foods isn’t occurring in a vacuum: it’s part of a sweeping and long-term campaign by the 7,162-store drug chain to draw “more from the core” of its dense, neighborhood-centered retail empire. (A special report on the progress of Walgreens’ overhaul campaign will appear in the March 1 issue of Drug Store News.)

One factor that’s sure to ease the chain’s adoption of more fresh foods—which often must be sourced locally both for freshness and for the ability to offer regional brands that appeal to local tastes—is its effort to move management and decision-making closer to each of its local markets across the country. To that end, Walgreens recently designated some 1,300 of its top store managers to “oversee not only their own drug stores, but about five to seven other Walgreens drug stores in their market, along with all the services we offer,” president and CEO Greg Wasson said at the company’s annual meeting of shareholders Jan. 13.

That decision followed another recent move by the company: the transfer of its regional operations executives out of the central office and into their own regions, where their decision-making can be more directly driven by local market conditions.

On a related note, there are no plans at present for a major expansion of the company’s Café W concept, Washington said. Now operating in roughly 380 stores, Café W offers time-pressed commuters fresh coffee, soft drinks, pastries and other consumables out of a large, self-contained kiosk near other food offerings in the store.

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Virginia lawmakers move to block plan for mandated health coverage

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON In an act of defiance against the Obama administration’s plan for healthcare reform, the Virginia legislature this week moved to block a provision in that plan that would mandate that Americans obtain health insurance.

Health reform opponents on Thursday applauded the move, which came Tuesday when the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would make it illegal to require individuals to purchase health insurance. The measure already passed the state Senate and is headed to the desk of Governor Bob McDonnell, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

 

That will make Virginia “the first state to protect its citizens from a federal government mandate to obtain health insurance,” according to a conservative advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity, which has bitterly opposed efforts by Democrats to reform the U.S. health system. The group also claims that a total of 37 states are considering some form of “health care freedom act.”

The White House, for its part, has long proposed some form of mandated coverage for all Americans as a means of holding down insurance costs and ensuring that healthier Americans are also included in insurance pools. Under the Obama administration’s proposal, however, much of the cost of individual coverage could be defrayed or offset by tax cuts or other financial help for individuals who can’t afford the costs of coverage.

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Home health specialist Carex launches online membership program for patients

BY Alaric DeArment

OAKLAND, Calif. A company that makes in-home health products has launched a section on its Web site for elderly people and their caregivers.

Carex Health Brands announced Thursday the launch of Carex Care Connection, at carex.com. The site allows users to share stories and find discounts and giveaways on Carex products, which include products for mobility, bathroom safety, personal care and daily living aids, pain management and others.

“Our team at Carex Health Brands genuinely cares about the welfare of seniors,” Carex VP marketing Nathalie Kim said in a statement. “In addition to our efforts to create the most innovative and quality products in the in-home health category, we want to connect directly with caregivers and the senior community.”

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