Walgreen Co. gave a tour of one of its "food oasis" stores in Chicago to First Lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Walgreens, Michelle Obama, First Lady, Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Mayor, Greg Wasson, food oasis, food desert, Let's Move!, childhood obesity, drug chain, Chicago, fresh food, fresh produce, health and daily living, Supervalu, Save-A-Lot

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First lady, Chicago mayor tour Walgreens 'food oasis' store

October 26th, 2011

DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreen Co. gave a tour of one of its "food oasis" stores in Chicago to First Lady Michelle Obama and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The store visit on Tuesday, part of a mayoral summit hosted by Obama's Let's Move! initiative and Emanuel, provided the first lady and the mayor a firsthand look at Walgreens' efforts to fight childhood obesity and provide better food options and accessible health care to underserved communities, the drug chain said. 

Walgreens noted that the store visited by Obama earlier this year expanded its food offering to include produce and other grocery staples and that, before the store's expansion, there wasn't a convenient location in the community to access such healthy food options.

The store is one of a dozen Walgreens locations in Chicago neighborhoods identified as "food deserts," where there's a dearth of stores selling nutritious foods, particularly produce. The food oasis stores increased their food selection by up to 60% by offering a larger assortment of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and other healthy meal component.

As part of her Let’s Move! initiative, the first lady has focused on the issue of access to healthy, affordable food as a key pillar of her fight to end childhood obesity within a generation.

"We can talk all we want about making healthy choices about the food we serve our kids, but if parents don't have anywhere to buy those foods, then that's all it is — it's just talk," Obama said at the event. "Imagine what we could achieve if mayors across the country started taking on this issue. Think about all the jobs we could create, all the neighborhoods we could begin to transform and what it means when our children finally get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy. I am confident that — one neighborhood, one community, one city at a time — we can ensure that all our kids have the happy, healthy futures they deserve."

Walgreens president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson in July joined the first lady at the White House to announce the retailer's commitment to convert or open at least 1,000 food oasis stores nationwide over the next five years, helping to serve about 9.5 million people in food desert communities.

"With more than 45% of our stores located in or around areas that don't have access to fresh food, Walgreens is uniquely positioned to bring more food options to Americans and also provide needed pharmacy, health and wellness services directly in those communities," Wasson stated.

Also at the Chicago event on Tuesday, Walgreens unveiled an agreement with a local network of urban farmers in Chicago to source fresh produce for Walgreens 12 food oasis stores in the city. Walgreens also will work with the network to create awareness about the use of local urban farmers, such as from Chicago communities like Roseland and Washington Park, through in-store advertising.

"It is unacceptable that nearly 450,000 Chicagoans do not have access to healthy, fresh foods for their family, and I committed to eliminating food deserts in our city," Emanuel said at the store tour event. "I am grateful to First Lady Michelle Obama, grocery executives and mayors who joined us today for their commitment to working together to ensure that residents have access to the foods they need to make healthy choices for themselves and their families."

In June, Walgreens announced plans to expand its food oasis stores in Chicago to nearly 50 over the next two years. 

"Walgreens is in a great position to be a true community resource as a retail health and daily living destination," Wasson added. "In communities like this, we are the health care hub with access to prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, expanded health care services such as medication counseling, clinic services and health testing, and daily living needs that include healthy food choices."

Also on Tuesday, food and drug retailer Supervalu Inc. said at the mayoral summit with the first lady that as part of the effort to eliminate food deserts, it plans to open a Save-A-Lot limited-assortment discount supermarket in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood by the end of November. That would bring the total number of Save-A-Lot stores in the Chicagoland area to 14.