Thursday, February 28, 2008

News & Analysis: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Confirms 19 Store Locations for the Sacramento-Vacaville Region in Northern California

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market confirmed today it plans to open 19 stores in the Sacramento Metropolitan region, as well as in nearby Vacaville and Galt.

Seven of the small-format grocery stores, which average 10,000 square feet -to- 13,000 square feet, will be in the city of Sacramento. Nine of the markets will be in the nearby suburbs (see the graphic above). Two of the Fresh & Easy stores will be in Vacaville, which is about 25 minutes from Sacramento, and one store will be in Galt, which is less than 15 miles from Sacramento, and is about midway between the capital city and Stockton, where Tesco plans to locate its Northern/Central California distribution center.

On Monday, January 28 we reported that Tesco had applied for liquor licenses for four Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the city of Sacramento (2 stores) and two stores in the nearby suburb of Folsom. We discovered this fact via liquor license applications, which are public data. As a result, we were one of the first publications to report that Tesco would enter the Sacramento region in Northern California, along with signing leases for 18 stores to date in the nearby San Francisco Bay Area. [Read our January 28, 2008 piece here.]

Tesco's confirmation of the 19 Sacramento/Vacaville-area grocery markets, along with the confirmation it will begin opening the first of its initial 18 Fresh & Easy stores in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of this year or in early 2009, brings to a total of 35 the number of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market small-format grocery stores the retailer has thus far confirmed for Northern California.

Vacaville is located about 20 miles from Sacramento, off Interstate I-80, which is the primary route from Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area. Vacaville is about an hour drive from San Francisco and a little over 30 minutes to the East Bay Area cities of Berkeley and Oakland. Interstate 80 rings the Bay from the Bay Bridge east, out to Fairfield (where Fresh & Easy is locating a store), then on to Vacaville, the University city of Davis, and into Sacramento.

Locating a critical mass of stores in the Sacramento Metropolitan region, then out to Vacaville and Farfield, then into the Bay Area, is the same strategy Tesco is using in Southern California. This "critical mass" strategy emulates retailers like Starbucks and Walgreen's Drugs, small format retailers which locate a critical mass of stores in city's and neighborhoods so as to position their stores as a "neighborhood" retailer.

Additionally, we can report that Tesco is looking for additional new store locations in both the Sacramento and Bay Area regions. In fact, the British grocer already has a number of other location leases locked-up (in addition to those announced) and is in negotiations for more store sites in both the Sacramento and Bay Area regions. We hope to be able to report some of those locations soon here.

As we reported first in December and again in the January 28 piece, Tesco also plans to open a new distribution center in Stockton, California to serve its Bay Area and Sacramento region Fresh & Easy stores. Stockton is located in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, about 30 miles from Sacramento, and about 60 miles from San Francisco. The location is generally no more than one hour's drive-and in many cases less--to all of the 35 confirmed Northern and Central California store locations to date. Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has not yet confirmed the Stockton distribution center. Additionally, Stockton is about a 15 minute drive from Galt, where one of the 19 Sacramento-area stores will be opened.

Sacramento's Mayor joins F&E CEO Mason for AM presser

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason made the Sacramento region new store announcement with a splash this morning. He was joined by Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and City Councilman Ray Tretheway in front of an empty commercial building located at Northgate Blvd. and San Juan Blvd. in the city of Sacramento. The grocer will remodel the empty building into a Fresh & Easy grocery market.

By having the city's mayor at his side, Mason signaled Fresh & Easy wasn't just another grocery retailer opening a new store in town, but rather is a grocer that's making a major commitment to the city and region by opening an initial 19 stores in the region next year, with more to come. Having Mason at her side also was good for the Mayor. Sacramento, like all of California is being battered by the sub-prime housing crisis, increasing unemployment and a host of other economic ills. Being able to announce a new business venture like Fresh & Easy moving into her city at this time will score her some major political points with voters.

The retailer also made another smart move by choosing the empty Tower Records building on Watt Avenue in Sacramento as one of its future Fresh & Easy grocery store locations. Tower Records, which later grew into a national chain, which went bankrupted in 2006, was founded in Sacramento in the 1960's--and the Watt Avenue location was its flagship store.

When the Watt Avenue Tower store closed, there literally was a period of mourning in Sacramento for the local independent record store that went on to be a huge mega-chain, then fell on hard times and was shut down. Tesco's Fresh & Easy should gain considerable goodwill from the community for leasing, remodeling and opening one of its grocery markets in the Tower building, which is what it's called. The building has been empty for over two years.

[Note to Fresh & Easy Management: It would be wise, and good business, to preserve aspects of the former Tower Records building when you remodel it into a Fresh & Easy market. Perhaps you should call it "Tower Fresh & Easy," or some version of that. Remember, everything is local in America, especially in Sacramento. And, in the case of an iconic building like the Tower Records' site, retaining some aspects of the building's history and culture (a plaque on the front of the new Fresh & Easy store with the history of the building would be a nice touch) will not only go a long way towards creating excellent community relations--but customers as well.]

The timing and style of the announcement was particulary good for Fresh & Easy since analysts like us and others have been writing about how the retailer's current 55 stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada are not performing up to expectations. [You can read our most recent analysis on Fresh & Easy store performance in posts made on Tuesday and yesterday on the blog.]

Of course, marketing an PR are only part of being a successful grocer. As we've suggested in our pieces this week, Tesco's Fresh & Easy has major operations challenges to solve and improve in addition to opening dozens of new stores and creating good PR events.

The retailer shouldn't be counted out though. Doing doing so is foolish. Tesco is the world's number three retailer, and it's track record at home in the UK and elsewhere in the world is impressive. Tesco also has lots of cash. That's helpful to any start up. What we believe Tesco hasn't learned yet though is: it can't do retailing in the U.S. in the same way it does retailing in the UK and Europe.

Fresh & Easy is missing a key American element: localism. This missing element can't be fixed as easily as the operational problems we've pointed out in our analysis. However, its just as important--maybe even more so. And, it's essential.

Competitive environment: Welcome to Sacramento

Nowhere does Tesco need to grasp the importance of tailoring its Fresh & Easy stores better to the local environment and neighborhoods than in Sacramento and its metropolitan and surrounding region.

Sacramento has been one of the fastest-growing cities in California throughout the last decade. The Sacramento Metropolitan region has a population of nearly 2 million people. The city of Sacramento has a current population of about 600,000. In addition to being California's capital city--which means lots of well-educated state government workers--Sacramento has a mixed economy. Agriculture and agribusiness remain huge in the region, as does light manufacturing, warehousing and transportation.

The fastest growing sector in the Sacramento region's economy is in the service sector, both in state government, associated non-profit organizations like law and lobbying firms, and in the private sector. This includes the health professions, law, finance and retail. In the last 15 years the city has been transformed from being a central city in a primarily agricultural region (with the exception of state government), to the urban city center of a booming metropolitan and somewhat cosmopolitan area.

Grocery retailing in Sacramento and the surrounding region has a decidedly local flair. The region's number one (in market share and store count) grocer is Raley's, which is based in the nearby city of West Sacramento. Raley's is a prvately-held, family-owned supermarket chain that's been in business in the Sacramento region for 73 years. The locally headquartered grocery chain has 120 stores and does about $3 billion a year in sales.

The Sacramento-based food retailer operates four store banners: Raley's, Bel-Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source. Raley's stores are 55,000 square foot -to- 80,000 square foot superstores. The stores are fairly upscale and offer lots of prepared and other fresh foods, along with tons of grocery products (including lots of organics) and a huge selection of non-foods. Most of the new Raley's banner stores are closer to the 80,000 square foot size. The Raley's banner is the chain's original retail brand.

The Bel-Air banner is an upscale supermarket format. The stores average 40,000 square feet(older stores) -to- 60,000 square feet (newer stores). They're similar to the Raley's stores--lots of upscale fresh foods, but fewer nonfoods do to their size (but still plenty). Bel-Air was an acquisition for Raley's. The Bel-Air chain at one time was Raley's chief competitior in the region. In the 1980's, Raley's acquired the grocery chain from the Wong family, who founded and operated the chain for over 50 years.

Nob Hill Foods also is an acquisition for Raley's. Like Bel-Air, Nob Hill was a long-time family-owned chain. It was based in the South Bay Area city of Gilroy, where two generations of the Bonfonte family operated it for about 60 years. Raley's acquired Nob Hill Foods in the 1990's and consolidated its headquarters in its West Sacramento facility.

Food Source is Raley's discount warehouse-type store format. The grocer created the banner in the 1980's as a way to get into the growing no frills, discount warehouse store category in the region at the time. It's the grocer's smallest banner in terms of the number of stores, but does significant sales volume in its niche.

Citizen Raley's

Raley's also is a leading corporate citizen in the Sacramento region. Sacramento's semi-pro baseball team, the River Cats--which in a big city like Sacramento without a professional baseball team serves as a very popular popular equivalent--plays it games at Raley Field, a state of the art baseball stadium in the city built in large part by the grocer.

The grocer is the number one donor to programs that feed the hungry and homeless in the region. Last year it gave over $15 million dollars to food pantry's and other programs which provide food assistance to families and individuals in need.

In fact, Raley's has its hand in nearly every charitable venture in the region--from Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to educational scholarship assistance, environmental causes and literally many dozens more. Additionally, the Raley-Teel family, majority-owners of the Raley's grocery chain, also has its own charitable foundation, which gives additional millions each year to local non-profit groups and supports other charitable causes locally.

The other two major grocers in the Sacramento region--Safeway Stores, Inc. (number two market share) and Save Mart, Inc. (number three market share) are fairly local guys as well. Safeway, which has about 21% of the region's grocery sales market share, has its corporate headquarters in the East Bay Area city of Pleasanton, which is only about 70 miles from Sacramento. Save Mart, which entered the Sacramento region market for the first time last year when it bought Albertsons' Northern California Division from an investment banking firm, is headquartered just 60 miles away in the Central Valley City of Modesto.

Between the three grocery chains--Raley's, Safeway and Save Mart--they control about 85% of the total grocery sales market share in the Sacramento market region. The remaining 15% share is split between Food-4-Less, a multi-store deep-disount warehouse format grocer, numerous independents, Longs Drugs, a couple Trader Joe's stores, and the one Whole Foods Market, Inc. store in the region, which is located in Sacramento. (Note: Whole Foods' is looking to add at least one, and maybe two stores in the region in the next two years.)

Union supermarket chains vs. non-union Fresh & Easy

Raleys, Safeway Stores and Save Mart also are union supermarket chains. On average, the three chains pay their full-time store-level retail clerks about $21.00 hour. Full-time means the clerks' have one full year of full-time hourly experience as a union grocery clerk. Part-timer pay ranges from about $12.00 hour -to- the $21.00 hour amount. The $12.00 hour is an entry-level wage for some positions, and it goes up in increments about every three months per the agreed upon contract between the grocery chains and the union. Nearly all store level workers with six months' to a year's experience make between $15.00 and $21.00 hour.

The union contract also provides store workers with one of the best medical insurance plans in the U.S. It is comprehensive, has lower than average employee contributions, doctors office co-pays and prescription drug out-of-pocket costs for the workers. The plan also offers very affordable dental, vision and mental health plans for reasonable employee contributions.

The union supermarkets also provide a career path for workers who choose to make a career out of the retail grocery industry and work at store-level for 25 -to- 30 years and then retire. The joint employer-union pension plan pays out about $3,500 -to- $4,000 month to union clerks who retire after 25 -to- 30 years in the industry. This is in addition to collecting monthly Social Security pension payments.

Employers make the largest contribution to the worker pension plan. Employees contribute a small percentage out of their paychecks every two weeks as well. Additionally, all three of these union grocery chains--Safeway, Raley's and Save Mart--offer some form of additional retirement plans on their own to workers. Safeway offers a discount stock-purchase plan, while Raley's and Save Mart offer profit-sharing-type programs, since both are privately-held companies. Save Mart has 255 stores throughout Northern and Central Califronia, and annual sales of about $6.5 billion.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market currently pays store-level workers $10.00 hour. There currently is no established higher hourly wage for current workers when they achieve one year's experience like at the union supermarket chains.

The 10,000 square foot -to- 13,000 square foot grocery stores employee about 20 workers per-store, according to the company. All of the store employees, with the exception of a couple managers, work part time. Those part-timers who want to can work up to 20 hours a week, which qualifies them for a health insurance plan.

However, we've compared a Fresh & Easy store employee's health plan to the union food retail chains' plan, and the union plan wins across the board: it's more comprehensive, has less of an employee contribution, provides for lower employee co-payments, and offers a number of other benefits.

According to a Tesco Fresh & Easy spokesman, the retailer also offers bonuses of up to 10% to store-level workers if they meet certain performance criteria. The bonus is once a year. Fresh & Easy doesn't currently offer store-level employees a retirement plan. They also don't get discounts at present on Tesco plc. stock, like Safeway employees do with Safeway stock.

Trader Joe's, which has only a couple stores in the region, Whole Foods (it has one store), and Wal-Mart, which only has a handful of Supercenters in the Sacramento area, also are non-union shops like Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

Sacramento shoppers are historically 'local-loyal'

Sacramento region shoppers have long been super-loyal to Raley's. Just ask Safeway Stores, Inc. Despite the fact that its a chain based nearby, has more than 10 times the number of stores and does at least $40 billion more in annual sales than Raley's, its never been able to overtake the local grocer in market share in the region, despite trying hard to do so for at least four decades.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market would be wise to learn as much as it can about the "local nature" of grocery retailing in the Sacramento region. Over the last 40 years, Safeway left the market twice, under two different ownership structures, because of Raley's domination. It was only again in the 1980's--and particularly in the 1990's with its Lifestyle format stores--that
Safeway began to make some inroads in the market.

Fresh & Easy senior management can expect a strong response by Raley's, Safeway and Save Mart when it enters the Sacramento market next year. For example, in terms of retail pricing, all three--but especially Raley's and Save Mart--won't hesitate to lower prices if Fresh & Easy comes in with its discount pricing structure on basic grocery items like it has in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, which it will do in Sacramento because doing so is key to its format and positioning. As the ancient Chinese saying states: 'May you live in interesting times.

Related Reading:

>Read our January 28, 2008 piece, "Fresh & Easy Applies for Liquor Licences for four Sacramento, California Stores.

>Read our February 21, 2008 analysis piece on Fresh & Easy's sales problems,and suggestions for improvement.

>Read this February 8, 2008 piece from the blog Natural~Specialty Foods Memo about one of Fresh & Easy's stores which will go in the low-income Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento.

>Read what the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento's largest-circulation daily newspaper, wrote about Tesco's Fresh & Easy coming to town in today's addition

Note: Thanks to the Sacramento Bee for allowing us to use the store location graphic at the top of this story.


Anonymous said...

So, is this blog independent in the sense that the blog's author(s) are truly an indepedent entity, or independent in the sense that you are a third-party who, while not Tesco, is either working at the behest of or in concert with Tesco (but is maintaining an "independent" facade to keep up the appearance of being a separate entity...much like PACs sponsor/produce beneficial political ads for candidates or positions, that officially aren't support by said candidate or said position)? You're certainly very well informed, but you don't seem to be getting many comments from anyone, and to some extent you keep overhyping the importance of Tesco in the US market (especially odd, because your own analyses seem to suggest that Tesco isn't having any effect in the US market, or at least definitely not the one that Tesco intends)...

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Fresh & Easy Buzz has no (zero)affiliation with Tesco plc., Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market or any Tesco-related entity.

Additionally, we aren't related to a single person who works for Tesco.

Third, we own no stock in Tesco.

Fresh & Easy Buzz is agnostic in regards to Tesco and its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market venture in the USA. We neither have a personal or a professional stake in its success or failure.

What Fresh & Easy Buzz is, is a blog which offers news, information, analysis, opinion, insight and other things as they relate to Tesco and its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery retailing venture in the U.S. We also cover related issues: Tesco plc. in the UK and globally, competitors, and the like.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market venture in the U.S. is of great interest to people in the food and grocery industries--as well as to people in related industries like commercial real estate and many others fields.

There also is great consumer interest in the venture--just like there is regarding Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, Starbucks and so many other retailer's

Consumerism, shopping and society are interwoven in the U.S. That's one reason why you see publications devoted to Starbucks, Whole Foods, Google--and yes, even Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and Tesco plc.

Our primary target is the food and grocery industry. Our aim is to offer a mix of news, analysis, critical thinking and more for folks in and out of the industry.

We have been recieving numerous emails from Fresh & Easy workers, industry people and consumers who are reading the blog. We first published in December, 2007.

If you apply the "reasonable person" test, and actually read through the blog, you will find--if you are a reasonable person--an even mix of news, analysis and information regarding Tesco and Fresh & Easy. (Of coourse, we are under no obligation to provide an even mix, we just choose to do so.)

For example, read through our pieces from this week. Most of them discuss our analysis--and that of a couple others--regarding sales underperformance by the 55 Fresh & Easy stores open to date. Would Tesco pay a person to write pieces like that?

Additionally,read our piece from yesterday about Fresh & Easy's plans to move into the Sacramento market. A reasonable person would certainly not call that "hyping" Fresh & Easy.

Regarding the relative importance of Fresh & Easy in the U.S. Market. Our position is that it isn't close to being one of the most important grocery retailers at all in the market. How could it be; it's a start up?

What it is however, is a unique venture on a scale not seen in decades--if ever--by a foreign grocery retailer in the U.S.

It's also unique in that this $2 billion venture is challenging the Western U.S. market with small-format stores, a format of which is completely unproven in the U.S.

Its a gamble in our analysis; and such venture's generate lots of interest in and out of the food and grocery industry.

The start-up nature of the format, it's scale (200 stores in a year and a $2 billion investment), and the fact its being launched by the world's third largest retailer, are what drew our interest enough--as a 25 year-plus veteran of the food and grocery industry--to start the blog.

We appreciate your reading the blog, and offering your opinion.

We also ask you to do two things:

1.Feel free to call Tesco's corporate office, or the Fresh & Easy corporate office in Riverside, California, and ask if Fresh & Easy Buzz is affiliated with the corporation in any way, shape or form. The answer is NO, but please feel free to call them.

2.Take some time--with a cup of coffee or your favorite adult beverage--and read through the blog. Apply the "reasonable man" test and see if by reading it you really think a multi-billion dollar corporation would pay us to produce the blog. Also, note the impartial nature of the pieces.

Again, thanks for your readership and participation. We hope you continue to contribute.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the blog? It just stopped after the Sacramento news? I am new to the blog but very interested in gleaning more information pertaining to recent events, news, plans, strategies etc. Please bring us up to speed.

Hmmmm said...

I love Fresh & Easy! Price, clear choices...some of the things I always buy..the blueberries, organic frozen peas, almond slices, plain yogurt, oatmeal pks......

A few items need to be addressed though. The Tofu is only fit for the dogs. The medium I bought was already slimmy and then when i bought the firm F & E brand it was like partical board...please replace distributors for that! And the natcho cheese sauce...never tasted worse cheese sauce. Not even edible :(

Prices and quality of most everything else has been good though...milk, eggs, orange juice...way cheaper than Albertsons!