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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Walgreens Fresh Eats Spread Across San Francisco. Are They Worth Eating?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 6, 2011 at 8:00 AM

The fresh-food shelves at the Chinatown Walgreen's. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • The fresh-food shelves at the Chinatown Walgreen's.

The renovations began rolling out in May: Dozens of Walgreens stores across San Francisco ripped out their one-hour photo processing desks -- no longer needed in the age of digital cameras -- and replaced them with chilled cases of sandwiches, chopped fruits, and microwave-and-serve entrees. One Chinatown store's makeover happened in June; the Fourth St. and Market store just rolled out the drugstore chain's "Fresh Eats" program yesterday. 

All in all, an estimated 17 stores in San Francisco are currently being stocked with freshly made foods, and according to Dave Devincenzi, district manager of SF's Central District, the company plans to convert another 22 locations in 2012. (SFoodie asked Walgreens' media relations department for confirmation of those numbers, but has not yet heard back.) "In the Bay Area, roughly 60 percent of our stores will have Fresh Eats," Devincenzi says. "In San Francisco, I think it would probably be higher."

The product line for the stores varies from the Financial District to the outer neighborhoods. Most of the freshly prepared foods come from a central commissary near Sacramento, Devincenzi says, and one of the counter people SFoodie spoke to confirmed the stock is replenished every day. 

The store SFoodie visited on Sansome and Bush had a small case of sushi rolls, yogurt parfaits, salads, and sandwiches, along with a couple of baskets with common fruits like apples and bananas -- all things nearby workers would grab for lunch. The Chinatown store added on a few shelves of ready-to-eat meals such as a vegetable-and-barley casserole and stuffed mushrooms. And the Bayview store, part of Walgreens' nationwide "food desert" initiative, stocks even more vegetables and fresh and frozen meals. 

click to enlarge Walgreens' DeLish! (brand) barley with vegetables. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Walgreens' DeLish! (brand) barley with vegetables.

The initiative is smart, from many different points of view -- and in the case of the food desert initiative, a welcome way to bring more fresh, healthful foods to neighborhoods with few shopping options. It's hard not to look at the ready-to-heat meals and see their similarity to Fresh & Easy, which is also making a big push to open up stores in the Bay Area.

SFoodie confesses we're not the target market for Walgreens' Fresh Eats -- we rarely eat prepackaged food from markets and grocery stores. But we picked up a range of foods from two different stores. A six-pack of brown-rice sushi rolls filled with tempura vegetables ($4.49) was more gray than brown and gritty with sesame seeds, but it came with a spicy mayonnaise that rendered the rolls edible. We took one and only bite of a microwave-heated vegetarian barley with vegetables, and found it oddly sugary and dominated by the funk of overcooked broccoli.

Walgreens' Southwest chicken wrap.
  • Walgreens' Southwest chicken wrap.
​But a $2 cup of baby carrots, sliced apples, and red grapes made the stretch between coffee and lunch much shorter, and the $4.49 Southwestern chicken wrap -- chicken breast, pepper jack, and fresh vegetables, rolled in a turmeric-yellow wheat tortilla -- was brightly flavored, the equal of anything you'd buy at Jamba Juice, Whole Foods, or Safeway. I'd buy this again, SFoodie found ourselves thinking, before we remembered the office is a short hike away from barbecue duck rice plates and shrimp and vegetable yee mein. No contest.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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