Enter the “Food Swamp”

The Lempert Report
July 23, 2019

The Guardian reports that with CVS selling more groceries than Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s combined, researchers fear food ‘deserts’ are becoming ‘swamps’ of processed food.

In 2017, CVS held a 3.9% share of the grocery market. Walgreens came in at 2.4%. Compare those to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which had 1.4% and 1% respectively. 

The nature of pharmacies may help fill the grocery gap where affordable options are scarce, but some researchers are concerned that this low-priced convenience comes with a high cost.

Michael Ruhlman, a chef turned author who wrote the book Grocery, says “there is a great irony in that food sold at the pharmacy – ostensibly a place meant to promote our health – is actually bad for you.”

In a 2016 study, researchers stocked corner stores in “food swamps” across East Los Angeles with affordable produce, hoping to test whether food retail interventions could be successful. They weren’t. While perceptions of the stores and community accessibility changed, patrons continued to purchase processed food instead of the fresh stuff.

And, while pharmacy shelves are still stocked with junk food, they are also beginning to expand their offerings. Walgreens announced last year that it was testing out a new partnership with Kroger, launching “Kroger Express” grocery sections that include organic items inside 13 Kentucky locations, along with adding Kroger products to its online store.