Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Leading Democratic Candidate for President Barack Obama Joins Group in Asking Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Put More Stores in Underserved Neighborhoods

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is getting a lot of letters regarding Tesco's U.S. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store operations during his current trip to the U.S. as Britain's official foreign trade representative.

Yesterday, we wrote about a letter written by Joseph T. Hanson, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, to Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason. Hanson's letter was given to the visiting Price Andrew--who among other things was in Southern California for the grand opening of a new Fresh & Easy store in Compton, California--and the Prince was asked to personally hand-deliver it to Mason and other company senior executives. [Read our piece from yesterday here.]

But the UFCW's letter isn't the only important letter Prince Andrew recieved late last week. A Southern California-based group called The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, which is a coalition involving over 25 Southern California communties and numerous local groups and non-profit organizations, also hand-delivered a letter to the Prince, and asked him to personally give it to Tesco plc.'s CEO Sir Terry Leahy and Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Mason.

The thrust of the letter involves the group's efforts for the last few months to get Fresh & Easy to locate more of its small-format grocery markets in poor and underserved (by grocery stores) communities like the retailer promised it would when it entered the Western U.S. Market last November with the first of its stores, which currently number 43.

Further, this particular letter had a rather important author: Democratic candidate for President of the United States Barack Obama. In the letter, Obama urged Tesco, the parent company of Fresh & Easy, to "make good on its promises to build stores in neglected neighborhoods. I hope these promises will be fulfilled," the letter stated. They are actually two letters--one from Obama to CEO Tim Mason and another from the alliance to Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy and Mason. You can read both letters here.

In January before he left the race, former Democratic candidate John Edwards signed a similar letter on behalf of the alliance. That letter was sent to Tesco and Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market senior management, including Sir Terry and Mason.

The Alliance for Healthy and Responsibility Grocery Stores has been lobbying Tesco with letters and through the media primarily to sign a pledge in which the British grocer would agree to open a certain number of Fresh & Easy stores in low-income Southern California neighborhoods which are underserved by grocery stores that offer fresh foods at reasonable prices. Further, they want the retailer to agree to meet certain health and environmental pledges it made before it opened its first stores last year. Tesco says they're meeting those goals, but the coalition wants a signed agreement.

Fresh & Easy has opened at least two stores in such underserved Southern California neighborhoods thus far--one in Los Angeles and the new store in Compton--but the vast majority of the retailer's stores have so far been located in middle income neighborhhoods which have plenty of choices in terms of supermarkets.

The grocer has, however, said it will open a number of new stores in just such areas in Southern California. Tesco calls these neighborhoods "food deserts," communities which lack affordable grocery stores offering fresh foods and variety at reasonable prices. In fact, the retailer claims doing so is a key part of its Fresh & Easy store strategy in the Western U.S.

Groups like the Southern California coalition aren't so sure of that promise however since only two or three of Tesco's 43 grocery stores opened to date are in these "food deserts." The grocer did sign leases a few weeks ago though in Northern California for two stores in underserved neighborhoods in San Francisco and for three stores in underserved neighborhoods in Oakland.

Since the letter from Barack Obama was given to Prince Andrew on Friday--the same day he participated in the opening of the Fresh & Easy grocery market in Compton--which not only is one of the poorist and most underserved city's in California, but in the entire U.S. as well--we wonder how the Prince responded after reading the letter?

Compton, a city of about 100,000 residents had only one supermarket until the Fresh & Easy grocery store opened last Friday. City officials and community groups have been trying for years to get local chain's Safeway Stores, Inc., Kroger-owned Ralph's Grocery Co., and numerous others to open a store in the city. However, all of the chains and independents have declined to do so. According to the city's mayor, Tesco's Fresh & Easy was the first to take them seriously.

The residents of Compton are happy with Fresh & Easy for locating a brand new store in their city when all others refused. Of course, that doesn't mean the alliance doesn't have the right to hold Tesco's feet to the fire in terms of opening more stores in similar underserved neighborhoods, especially since Fresh & Easy executives have used this promise much to their own benefit in terms of garnering much positive publicity.

We just wonder what the Prince--who was given the name "Fresh Prince of Compton" at the store grand opening Friday--thinks about not only getting the two back-to-back letters, but also about having to be the deliveryman to Tesco. Both groups--the union and the alliance--have said they've been unable to get Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Mason to meet with them in person, which is why they decided to use the "Fresh Prince" as there emisssary last week. We suppose they figured since he is already an emissary--for Britain's foreign trade in the U.S.--they might as well take advantage of his experience in the field.

>You can read the letter signed by Barack Obama to Tesco executives here, along with reading additional information about the group's efforts.
>Tesco (here) and Fresh & Easy (here) have nothing on their respective web sites regarding the letter.


Anonymous said...

Actually Prince Andrew is "Duke of York" and it would be "Wales" anyway, as in the country not the large animal that swims in the sea.
0 out of 10 for your researc here!

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Thanks for your comment. We have made the correction.

We correctly used the proper title, Duke of York, in an earlier piece, so I'm not sure how I missed the contributor's mistake in this piece--but I did. Thanks for pointing it out.

PS: Research has an "h" after the c, for you're future reference and useage. I'm tempted to say something like, "0 out of 10 for your spelling," but we don't play that way.