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Exec hired to lead Walgreens fresh food initiative

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Walgreen Co. confirmed that it has hired supermarket and convenience store veteran Jim Jensen to lead a new effort to market fresh food and ready-to-eat items.

Jensen, who joins Walgreens from U.K. retailer Tesco's Fresh & Easy Markets unit, will serve as divisional merchandise manager of fresh foods at the drug store chain.

Walgreens didn't provide details about Jensen's start date and its fresh food strategy.


DEERFIELD, Ill. — Walgreen Co. confirmed that it has hired supermarket and convenience store veteran Jim Jensen to lead a new effort to market fresh food and ready-to-eat items.

The drug store chain said that Jensen, who has over 17 years of experience in the fresh food arena, has joined the company as divisional merchandise manager of fresh foods.

Jensen comes to Walgreens from Fresh & Easy Markets, a U.S. supermarket unit of British food retailer Tesco, where he was director of fresh foods, the drug chain said. Before joining Fresh & Easy in 2006, he served in the fresh food division of 7-Eleven Inc. for 14 years.

Walgreens didn’t provide details about Jensen’s start date and its fresh food strategy.

However, in an interview last week with Bloomberg, Walgreens vice president of merchandising Bryan Pugh — who also previously worked for Tesco — said the drug chain is looking to roll out an array of freshly made foods, such as salads, sandwiches, cut fruit and pizza. He also said in the report that Walgreens has talked with Unilever, Nestle and Sara Lee about developing branded and private-label items.

As part of its Customer-Centric Retailing (CCR) store optimization strategy, Walgreens has been working to spur customer visits and boost the shopping basket. To that end, the retailer has added beer and wine to roughly 1,600 stores and aims to expand that category to most stores. Executives said a key goal is to make the chain more of a destination retailer.

In late December, Walgreens named Mike Arnoult as vice president of CCR to oversee the continued rollout of the merchandising format, which is slated to be in nearly 3,000 stores by the end of fall 2010. He reports to Pugh.

Drug store chains and other food and drug retailers have been scrambling to find ways to invigorate their front-end sales, which have been particularly susceptible to the downturn in consumer spending from the recession. Such items as fresh food and convenient, to-go meals are seen as a potential vehicle for increasing the frequency of customer visits as well as providing differentiation from competitors.

New York-area drug chain Duane Reade, for instance, recently rolled out a selection of ready-to-eat foods — including sandwiches, salads, fruit, yogurt and healthy snacks — in high-traffic locations in Manhattan. And discounter Target has been deploying its PFresh retail format, which features a perishables and prepared foods department, in its stores to help drive more repeat customer visits.

In a different grocery initiative, Walgreens has substantially expanded food offerings in two Chicago stores in neighborhoods underserved by supermarkets. The units, one at Madison Street and Western Avenue and the other at East 103rd Street and South Michigan Avenue, could be a model for the chain’s stores in other cities’ "food deserts," urban cores abandoned by supermarketers. Eight more such stores are planned for Chicago, mostly on the city’s South Side, this spring and summer.

*Editor’s Note: Geoff Walden contributed to this story.


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