Monday, June 23, 2008

RC-2: Reader Created Content: Fresh & Easy Buzz Reader and Correspondent Vegas Mike Reports on the Fresh & Easy at Lake Mead & Del Webb in Las Vegas

From the Fresh & Easy Buzz Editorial Desk: One of the ways among the many to better understand a food retailer like Tesco's Fresh & East Neighborhood Market is to pick a few stores and observe and study what happens in them--store customer counts, merchandising, costomer behavior and the like--on a regular basis.

Anthropologists for example call this type of research observational and ethnographical research. They will spend time among a culture, or in a more applied sense a business (or retail store), and observe what goes on in the culture, society or retail store over a period of time. They do so in what's called an unobtrusive manner; that is they don't tell people (in this case customers and workers) what they are doing, not do they ask questions like researchers do in a survey.

Rather, the applied ethnographer observes, focusing on a variety of variables and behaviors and noting how they change over time. Since retail stores, like cultures and societies, are dynamic rather than static, such applied observation can be a good way--along with other research such as surveys and other means--to better understand the evolution of a grocery store and food retailer. While one can't apply what goes on over time in one store to all stores, they can learn much about the whole (the chain) by closely observing the part (a handful of stores).

Fresh & Easy Buzz regular reader and correspondent Vegas Mike from Las Vegas has been doing just that--observing, analyzing and reporting over time--at the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store at Lake Mead & Del Webb in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is one of the Fresh & Easy units open the longest in the Las Vegas Metropolitan region.

We call his report--and other similar reports which we will be bringing Fresh & Easy Buzz readers--RC-2, Reader Created Content. It's a modified form of applied ethnography in that it also includes observations from a consumer point of view (the readers), along with suggestions and opinions on the stores(s), products and the like.

Below are Vegas Mike's latest observations and applied ethnographical report (including suggestions) on the Lake Mead and Del Webb Las Vegas region Fresh & Easy grocery store:

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market @ Lake Mead & Del Webb, Las Vegas, Nevada, Saturday, June 21, 2008: Observations and analysis by Vegas Mike

New items: Fresh & Easy has a set of new products for the grill in the meat aisle. The packaging label has a graphic of fire. These items include Honey Bourbon Pork Ribs and Boneless Chicken Breasts w/Chipotle BBQ Sauce. The items are under the fresh & easy store brand.

>They also had a few meat packs which contained a combined variety of beef, pork and poultry. Imagine a big plastic container with some steak, some chicken breasts, and some pork sausages. I don't know if they have excess inventory or if there's really a demand for this stuff packaged together instead of individually, but whenever one of those indivisual items in the multi-pack goes bad, a LOT of food is thrown away at once. fresh & easy store brand as well.

>The fresh pizza selection is expanded again, this time with fresh & easy brand Margarita Italian pizza.

Speaking of spoilage, they continue to tune their packaging to stop the mental suggestion that all the food in the place will spoil tomorrow. The phrase "Best by" has been changed to "Display by" on many products such as produce.

The old Nestle bottled water has been replaced with "Fresh & Easy Pure," which is bottled from the same facility that produces the Refreshe Water for Safeway/Vons, except Safeway's label suggests filtration and the addition of a minor amount of salts and minerals, whereas Fresh & Easy's mentions nothing of the bottling process and ingredient list; it simply lists well water. The price is right and the bottles are better than the flimsy Nestle-produced water bottles.

Further, Fresh & Easy still sells Arrowhead brand bottled water as an alternative. But I don't think they understand this bottled water thing. You have to at least give people the mental comfort the water is somehow improved over just turning on their faucet.

The fresh & easy store brand bottled water also doesn't list any Nutrition Facts, which I've seen on all bottled water before (even if water contains 0 calories, 0 fat, 0 sugar, and so on.) I'm not sure if this is a legal requirement on this product, but if it is, they're not meeting it.

Additional changes and new items

There were no more fresh & easy brand burger or hot dog buns for sale in the store. They were replaced by a new name, Puritan Bakery. While the fresh & easy brand hot dog buns were very doughy and heavy and probably made out of some kind of potato bread like the Brits like, these were tough and crumbly.

Fewer 50% markdown items; store busier

The 50% off section this time was very small. The store was fairly busy in the middle of Saturday and the parking lot was almost too full.

Store design observations, analysis and suggestions

Two problems: One, I realize they can't do much about it, but the glossy concrete floor causes unattended children to go running up and down to slide along on their feet and I nearly got clobbered by an out of control 11 year old.

The second and more honest problem is that those hybrid parking spots in the store's parking lot have never been used by hybrid cars when I've been there. Since this store is near a golfing retirement community, there were two golf carts parked around. They should just go ahead and have a new sign made to make the hybrid spots into hybrid and golf cart spots. It will make those spaces used and maybe foster a little loyalty with the resident golfers.

Of course, this is part of the whole failure to localize the stores that you've mentioned before.

Store service and checkout

Because the store was busy during the time I was there, there was again nobody available to help at the checkout, and if we weren't a party of two there would have been a mess when bagging while the next person scans in their stuff.

fresh & easy store brand products

The fresh & easy house brand has been more accepted in this household, with the occasional exception being I recently had a can of fresh & easy brand tuna that simply smelled bad and was unpleasant to eat the other week.

On the positive side, the fresh & easy brand ketchup is liked here by someone who was previously loyal to Heinz and at first refused to try a store brand, thinking the tomatoes were of lower quality. It's thought to contain less of a vinegar taste than Heinz.

The $5 coupons

We were given two $5-off- a $20+ grocery order purchase coupons that are valid over this next week. They seem to be encouraging more frequent small purchases.

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