Tesco's Fresh & Easy Off and Running

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Tesco's Fresh & Easy Off and Running

LOS ANGELES -- The first of the long-awaited "Fresh and Easy" gates have swung open in Southern California. After much industry buzz and anticipation, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market officially welcomed customers last week, opening six stores in some well-studied niche markets of Los Angeles and Orange County.

The new retail concept drew large crowds of customers and competitors alike on opening day, cramming into tight parking lots that had to be manned by traffic controllers. All were curious to see if Fresh and Easy would be true to its name and to Tesco’s promise of bringing fresh, easy and affordable meal choices to shoppers in a streamlined, “neighborhood market” format.

This idea, which some analysts have predicted will “revolutionize” American retailing, comes from the UK’s largest (and the third-largest international) retailer, Tesco, which maintains it has spent years gathering U.S. consumer input to uniquely tailor the Fresh & Easy stores to the American market.

“Based on extensive research, we’ve built a store from the ground up for the American consumer,” said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy CEO.

With 10,000 square feet of selling space and about 3,500 skus, the stores are “obviously a lot smaller than the standard supermarket,” said Simon Uwins, chief marketing officer. He said that about half of the selections are “Fresh & Easy” private label brands.

All around the store, signs and labels tout the private label products as containing no artificial colors or flavors, and no added trans fats; they only use preservatives when “absolutely necessary,” according to Uwins.

One of the store’s proprietary features is its “fresh from the kitchen” prepared foods, packaged as complete cooked meals, such as chicken fajitas and blue-cheese burgers. “We’ve built a state-of-the-art kitchen facility that enables us to produce high-quality, fresh, prepared foods just as you would make it in your own kitchen--it’s very simple,” Uwins said.

Other highlights of the stores include:
--Cage-free Fresh & Easy eggs
--Hormone-free Fresh & Easy meat
--Produce packed, date-coded, and delivered daily
--Locally sourced foods wherever possible
--Plastic crates and cardboard shippers, continually recycled to keep stocking simple

Initially, a cookie-cutter approach seems to have prevailed. Uwins said that regardless of the particular neighborhood, “all of the stores now opened are identical in that they have the same range of products and they also have the same prices.” Whether that will stay the same, “we’ll have to find out as we go through,” he stated.

The six stores currently operating are just the tip of the Tesco iceberg in the U.S. Fresh & Easy has announced 122 locations to date, with 30 scheduled to open by year’s end and 50 scheduled to open by the end of February 2008 in Southern California, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.

The company plans to have 200 stores operating by the end of next year. Tesco is reportedly investing $2 billion over 5 years in its U.S. debut.