July 23, 2008
I have a new favorite store. I finally checked out the Fresh & Easy store that opened a few weeks ago here in Manhattan Beach. Fresh & Easy is a new mini-supermarket concept that was created by the British grocery chain Tesco. I don't know anything about Tesco, but people must love it, because for many months before the first Fresh & Easy opened last November, there was tons of buzz about it. Tesco sunk tons of money into researching American tastes and habits. They had researchers who lived full-time with American families and even built a prototype store inside a secret warehouse and operated it for months. But despite all the research, the first stores didn't go over so well. People found them cold without enough variety, and were discouraged by how quickly items ran out (because so many are fresh daily). So for three months, they stopped opening new stores and focused on retooling the concept. Our store was the first new one to open since then.
Because of their similar size, they are often compared to trader Joes, which most everyone I know loves. I have to admit I cant stand TJ's. It feels small and crowded, I have no idea what anything is, and in typical "guy" fashion, I hate to shop - so I don't want to have to go to multiple stores to get what I need. So I wasn't sure if I'd like Fresh & Easy. Imagewise I expected it to be similar to a Whole Foods - cool and good stuff, but expensive ("whole paycheck"). Its completely different (and I think could compliment Trader Joes more than compete with it).
I found it to be colorful and warm (the graphic design, by the way, is clean and simple), but I went in with a 'lets learn what this place is about' attitude. There were lots of cool and good things, but I was surprised how inexpensive things were. (Milk was about half the price I'd pay at Ralph's.) On top of that, since much of it is fresh stuff, things that are close to their freshness date are half price. I appreciated how a lot of things were packaged in quantities that made sense for one or two people. And they do have all the "everything" stuff as well - though not the massive selection as a supermarket. For instance, they have Crest toothpaste, but maybe 4 or 5 different varieties, not twenty. The same seems to apply for other standard supermarket goods and brands. Bread comes in a lot of varieties, but only the Fresh & Easy brand. Check out is self-checkout, though there are always people there helping you, even when you don't need it. In two visits, I left with about 3 bags worth of stuff each time - one time adding up to $30, and the next time $20. Because its convenient to me (I pass it on the way to the gym), I could see it becoming a new habit, along with probably a monthly trip to the big supermarket to fill in the gaps. It seems like it fits my lifestyle well, but I don't know how much that would apply to the general customer. And I doubt I'm really the target market, so maybe my liking it is a bad sign! The company is sinking $2 Billion over the next five years to break into the US market, so we will see. So far, they can consider me a fan.
Posted by Jon Berry at 5:57 PM