New York’s Duane Reade Adds In-store Yogurt Kiosks

Regional chain goes from branded snacks to self-serve frozen yogurt.

New Yorkers are persnickety about everything, even their frozen yogurt— a substance that, like espresso, is essential for sustaining life in a big city. But with the retro-chic Pinkberry blooming all over town, how likely is a Prada-wearing, iPhone-toting Manhattanite to stop for self-serve frozen yogurt at a drug store? That’s exactly what Duane Reade is about to find out.

The 50-year-old regional chain has announced it will begin adding self-service frozen yogurt kiosks to select stores, complete with topping bars. “This is part of a bigger strategy,” said Joe Magnacca, president of Daily Living Products for Walgreens, which purchased the 250-unit Duane Reade in 2010. “We’re looking at our business differently and evolving into a health and daily-living destination.”

Only a few years ago, such plans would have sounded crazy. Founded in 1960, Duane Reade had a decades-long reputation for dingy stores and surly service. (In 2007, the actress Martha Plimpton famously said in an interview that going to Duane Reade is “a journey into the heart of darkness.”) But Walgreens’ purchase of the chain in 2010 prompted a course correction.

After introducing its own line of branded snacks in 2010, the chain moved its crosshairs to the Manhattan lunch crowd. Baguette sandwiches (made fresh by Eli Zabar, the legendary New York gourmet store), cheesecake, and even sushi and shrimp cocktails now beckon from chiller cases up front. The frozen yogurt offerings (in eight flavors including Blueberry Tart and Peach) will be nearby, next to the fresh juice bars.

“This won’t go systemwide,” Magnacca said, “but it will go where there’s high traffic. Our objective is to get people into the stores for different reasons as often as possible.” Sound familiar? It’s proof that the category blurring that began when Walmart started selling groceries (and flowers and deli platters and just about everything else) has trickled down to the level of regional chains, such as one that can no longer compete by just selling aspirin and Q-tips. “The days that brands owned one specialty are changing,” Magnacca said.

“Like the other in-store food offerings, [fro-yo] helps make Duane Reade a one-stop shopping destination,” said Todd Maute, partner in CBX, the firm that designed the yogurt stations.

While Walgreens is also experimenting with a fro-yo bar in Chicago, the Duane Reade bars are clearly designed to appeal to New Yorkers. White-tile mosaics are meant to evoke subway stations, while the signage (“Grab Life by the Berries”) is more likely to amuse than offend. “All of it works…to support a uniquely New York communication strategy,” Maute said.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.