The hypocrisy of pharmacies selling cigarettes at the very register where customers can also buy their asthma and high blood pressure medications isn’t lost on many, and certainly calls in to question claims of being a health care partner and advocate. So in that vein, maybe it’s not so far-fetched that Walgreens is peddling junk food to kids.
Last weekend I made a quick pit-stop at Walgreens to grab a number five candle for my niece’s birthday party. I overheard the cashier ask the customer in front of me, “Would you like to donate a dollar to put a bag of Doritos in our backpack program?”. I shook out of my daze, certain I’d misunderstood. The customer agreed and the cashier moved a bag of Doritos from the display pile on her left to the donated pile behind the counter on her right. When I was asked, I politely declined.
Right on the counter was a huge yellow sticker promoting the drug store’s “School Supply Drive,” with pictures of pens, markers, scissors, and glue. It explained that 100% of my donation would go to the Kids in Need Foundation and help outfit at-need kids for their trips back to school. Had I been asked to give a dollar toward this, I’d have probably given two. Had I been asked to give a piece of fruit, a jar of peanut butter, maybe a box of cereal, I’d have said yes. But I absolutely will not spend a dollar to give any kid a bag of Los Tacos or Nacho Cheese Doritos.
I called back later and asked to speak to a manager, and Jennifer explained the Doritos promotion was exclusive to her store in Moore, Oklahoma and not part of the national donation drive, which is actually putting much needed school supplies in the hands of needy kids. Jennifer then said the store approached their regional food bank with an offer for the donated Doritos, to which, according to her, the bank said “great, awesome.”
Those bags of Doritos customers believe are going to fill backpacks for children? They aren’t going to make it that far.
“There was miscommunication about the food drive at the register, which will be corrected. It is NOT going to our backpack program,” said Angie Gaines, director of communications and marketing for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. She, too, was quite confused when I asked her about the Doritos promotion at the Moore Walgreens that was to benefit the food bank’s backpack program; she didn’t know anything about it. She asserted that the bank does not do food drives for its backpack program, and if the Doritos show up, they’ll go toward general donations or snacks for volunteers.
That backpack program Angie is referencing is in partnership with area schools. The food bank fills backpacks with snacks and food that the kids can take home over the weekend to ensure they don’t go hungry before the following Monday. “We don’t add anything without seeing that it meets the USDA guidelines for schools,” which rolled out more stringent nutritional guidelines for all public schools in 2012.
So I had to ask, why was this Walgreens up-selling customers in to donating junk food? Jennifer told me it’s part of a monthly deal with vendors – they get to be featured at the checkout stand and promoted as an add on item. To help make her point, she told me the suggestive selling tactic is, “just like fast food restaurants asking if you want fries with that.”
“It’s unfortunate that they need to co-market with Doritos, which already has a lot of brand awareness. They don’t need any more,” said Sarah Wu, the once secret author of the blog and book Fed Up With Lunch. She saw a missed opportunity on Walgreens’ part. “Why not talk about oranges or the other products they have there that make healthy lunch accompaniments?”
How exactly do Doritos fit in to Walgreens’ “Way to Wellness” branding campaign? Jennifer wouldn’t answer. When I called the store, the cashier asked me, “How can I help you be well?”, and Jennifer couldn’t tell me how Doritos help kids be well either. With that I was directed to corporate media relations and she ended our conversation. Media relations replied to my phone call with an email saying, “We’re not able to provide an interview at this time,” and included a press release for the Kids in Need Foundation school supply drive.
The bottom line – Doritos, cigarettes, a lot of items inside Walgreens, frankly, won’t help you be well and are not on the way to wellness.