The British are coming !
Not another rock group invasion led by The Beatles, but the British grocery chain Fresh & Easy. They opened up into Southern California four years ago and will move into the Bay Area early next year by opening seven stores that will feature automated checkout lines and fresh-made meals in addition to the standard fare.
Behind the expansion of the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain is a story of changing consumer habits and a global competitor with nearly 5,000 stores around the world.
“We wanted to establish a post-melting-pot (food) format that reflected the wide diversity of the U.S. market and U.S. consumers,” said Fresh & Easy chief executive Tim Mason, who has opened 160 stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada since he arrived in Los Angeles in 2006.
Mark Hamstra, retail editor for Supermarket News, said the British firm had mounted a whopping $2 billion plan to penetrate the U.S. market by building a chain from the ground up, rather than by acquisition.
“They think they have a better model for the way consumers will shop for food in the future,” he said. “They want to compete with the likes of a Safeway, but do it like a Trader Joe’s, with special items that consumers can’t find elsewhere.”
Rather than loading up the shopping cart once a week, Mason said the company is betting that consumers will make more frequent trips to the market, often looking for prepared meals and fresh foods in addition to the staples, pet supplies and beauty aids that fill pantries and cabinets.
To get customers in and out quickly, Mason said every line in the store will have an automated checkout option for those who know how to use the scanners while those who don’t can get an attendant to process their purchases.
Fresh & Easy stores will feature prominent delis, called Kitchen Tables, stocked with soups, guacamoles and other prepared foods, made without preservatives in the company’s industrial kitchen. The stores will be green, literally and figuratively, from the color scheme of the walls and the staff’s T-shirts to the recycling operation and various energy-saving practices.
Fresh & Easy was also dinged by food activists for not opening enough stores in poor neighborhoods. The non-unionized chain has drawn the ire of organized labor.
These Fresh & Easy stores are scheduled to open in 2011:
San Francisco, San Jose, Danville, Pacifica, Vacaville, Walnut Creek and Concord.
Coming on the heels that America’s largest grocery store chain, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., will be bringing two new stores to Oakland will certainly add fuel to the competitive fire.
Kroger is coming !
Last month the city of Oakland announced that Kroger plans to open two 72,000-square-foot stores under the retailer’s Foods Co. banner.
Both proposed stores would be in East Oakland and the one slated for Foothill Square will fill the void left by Lucky’s and Albertson’s that closed several years ago despite efforts to keep them. The other store would be built at 66th Avenue and San Leandro Street, in a former cannery now owned by the Oakland Redevelopment Agency. The cannery would be demolished to make way for the new building. Each store would employ about 100 people.
There will be more competition now for Safeway, Lucky’s, Trader Joe’s, Andronico’ and Raley’s which can only mean better customer service for consumers.
Price wars anyone ?