When Fresh & Easy
opened a neighborhood market in my area, my friends and I rejoiced. Finally, a small grocery store that offered customers a wide variety of organic food items at great prices. I was amazed at the company’s explosive growth and it seemed like new stores were popping up all over the metro Phoenix area.
Fast forward a few years and the real estate bubble had burst, the economy took a nosedive and I started to see more Fresh & Easy stores closing their doors. Today, it looks like Fresh & Easy’s parent company, Tesco, has read the writing on the wall and is taking action.
U.K.-based Tesco announced that it would sell or close all of the remaining 199 Fresh & Easy stores here in the United States. The stores employ about 5,000 people in Arizona, California and Nevada and so Tesco’s ideal plan would involve selling the entire line to another party, which would help protect jobs.
In a BBC interview
, consultant Allyson Stewart-Allen of International Marketing Partners explained Tesco’s problems with the U.S. market, "Fresh & Easy just didn't look like an aspirational product. Americans don't want to be told they're on a tight budget, and Fresh & Easy's concept was all about people on budgets. Fresh & Easy was very confusing. You had champagne next to ready meals next to merchandising. It was a very confused proposition for Americans who couldn't work out what exactly they were."
I have to agree with Stewart-Allen. Even though I embraced the small store concept, it wasn’t a one-stop shop for all of my grocery needs. I didn’t mind making a second stop at another store but I know that many of my friends and family members only saw the store as a place to shop occasionally. Eventually I even began to phase out my trips to the store despite my original enthusiasm for the brand.
There is already an empty Fresh & Easy store just a few miles from my house with two more operating stores within five miles of my home. If the chain is not sold and the stores close, that will be two more empty big box stores
in my city, which is an entirely new problem to deal with.
Update - April 18, 2013: Brendan Wonnacott, Director of Communications/PR for Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, made the following statement regarding Tesco's announcement.
"Though our parent company plans to leave the US, we're pleased to confirm there are no plans to close any portion of Fresh & Easy. While we don't yet know who our new owner will ultimately be, Tesco has already received interest from a number of parties including groups looking to purchase Fresh & Easy as an operating business. We're confident that we can remain our customers' favorite neighborhood market and we've just launched an exciting new marketing campaign www.freshandeasy.com/ads. We look forward to serving our neighbors for many years to come."