Wednesday, April 9, 2008

UK Blogger Offers a British Independent Retailer's Opinion on Our Monday, April 7 Analysis of the Mercury News' Tesco UK Spoiled Foods Story of Old

Not too long ago we posted a piece written by West Sussex, United Kingdom-based local Postmaster and independent retailer Steve, who publishes the Village Counter Talk blog out of his retail store in that English village.

The Village Counter Talk writer, blogger, Postmaster and independent retailer read our piece published Monday about the San Jose, California Mercury News' running a story in that days edition of the publication about concerns local residents in a San Jose neighborhood are having about two Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market small-format grocery stores coming to the area early next year.

That concern reported in the Mercury News involves a past situation in the UK in which Tesco sold some food products which were either out-of-code, spoiled or both. At the time Tesco dealt with the matter, which generated lots of press in the UK, and announced it had solved the problem.

Additionally, a spokesperson for Tesco's USA Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets told the Mercury News reporter, and she quoted him in her story, that Fresh & Easy has no such problems in the U.S. and is following U.S. food safety guidelines to the letter.

In our piece here, we commented that the Tesco selling of out-of-code and/or spoiled food story was rather old, although the reports at the time didn't appear in U.S. newspapers.

Further, we mentioned in our piece that to our knowledge, there has not been one consumer report--or one suggestion by any of the health departments in the western U.S. regions where Tesco is currently operating its 61 Fresh & Easy stores--that the grocery chain has or has had any out-of-code or spoiled food problems in any of its stores.

However, in our analysis we said the important aspect of the story is that the story ran at all. In other words, it's all about perception. Once something is perceieved to be the case, it becomes reality to people, even if not objectively true.

Since the Tesco UK story is brand new to probably 99.9% of the people who will read the Mercury News piece, and since the story obviously relates Fresh & Easy to its parent Tesco, we believe many readers will perceive that there just might be a food safety issue at the USA Fresh & Easy stores after reading it.

Consumer concerns about the safety of the food they purchase from grocery stores is a serious issue in the U.S. For example, a 2007 national survey (see the graphic at top of this piece) conducted by the Food Safety Policy Center at Michigan State University, found 33% of 1,200 consumers surveyed (a scientific random sample), are "very concerned" about food safety issues.

Additionally, another 30% said they are "fairly concerned" about the safety of the food they purchase. That adds up to 63% of the survey respondents expressing food safety concerns about the food products they buy in America's supermarkets and other retail venues. Only 34% of those surveyed in the study said they are "not at all concerned" about the safety of they food they buy, with just 3% saying they "aren't too concerned."

Most retailers are aware of this level of food safety concern among American consumers, and in recent years have created new and better programs and operational procedures to better ensure food safety from the supply chain to the store.

In our piece Monday, we strongly suggested that if we were running Fresh & Easy, we would get out in front of this story fast. [We haven't found or read any response from Tesco or Fresh & Easy to Monday's Mercury News thus far.]

Lastly, in our analysis of the Mercury News story, we talked about a practice Tesco is currently doing in many of its Fresh & Easy stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada that we believe is "rolling the dice" in terms of creating potential (and even perceptual) food safety concerns and issues.

This practice is the marking-down of fresh foods as they start to reach their package-printed expiration dates. Fresh & Easy is marking these near-out-of-code fresh foods items down on a regular basis by as much as 50% in many of its small-format, convenience-oriented grocery stores. [Read our analysis of that practice here.]

Independent retailer and blogger Steve, who writes the Village Counter Talk blog from his base in the UK and has observed Tesco there for years, read our Monday piece and decided to offer some commentary on it, and the issue, in a blog post earlier today.

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