Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tesco Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason Speaks to the Financial Times in Interview Published Today; Confirms Chicago Expansion We First Reported Last Year

Pictured above is the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Manhattan Beach, (Southern) California, scheduled to open on July 2. The store will be the first Fresh & Easy market to open since early April, when the retailer took a three month new store opening pause. The photograph was taken two weeks ago by Fresh & Easy Buzz roving correspondent Reno Tom, from in front of a Trader Joe's grocery market, which is just a short stroll from the new Fresh & Easy store. Both stores even share the same parking lot in the shopping center. The charcoal briquets in the photograph's foreground are for sale in front of the Trader Joe's store.

Tesco’s US chief eyes further expansion
By Elizabeth Rigby in Los Angeles
Published: June 15 2008

Tim Mason, chief executive of Tesco’s US operation, has hit back at critics of the Fresh & Easy chain and signalled that Tesco is preparing to expand beyond the West Coast.

In his first interview since launching in California last November, Mr Mason told the Financial Times that Fresh & Easy was thriving, in spite of suggestions of poor early results.

He said the decision to bring in US-born Jeff Adams as an operations director was about preparing for the future, rather than a signal that the new business was struggling.

“We have always known we will need more executive vice-presidents in operations because this country is so big that as soon as we go into a new geography, we will need someone to run it, so we have brought him in a little early,” said Mr Mason, adding that rumours he was returning to the UK were a “complete fabrication”.

Tesco’s US ambitions are being closely followed by investors and competitors. The British retailer is investing up to £250m a year in the next four years on the West Coast and could end up with a multibillion-pound business if it succeeds in a market where many British retailers have failed.

A bullish Mr Mason dropped heavy hints that Mr Adams, the former Tesco chief in Thailand, would be deployed to another part of the US – most likely to be in the Chicago and the Midwest – once the 61-strong chain reaches critical mass in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Expansion would require more investment than the £1.25bn earmarked for the five-year West Coast project. Asked whether Tesco was ruling out a move beyond the West Coast until after 2012, Mr Mason said: “I wouldn’t say that. We wouldn’t do anything else until we have explained how we are doing here.”

Mr. Mason, who unnerved investors and analysts when he “paused” the store roll-out programme in March for three months, admitted that the break “hadn’t always been planned”, but said he was “surprised that everyone went mental” on news of the three-month break.

“I was critical of myself, really, because you ought to see these things coming.

“I felt that it was just so obviously the right thing to do having opened 60 stores,” said the executive on his first public store tour since launch.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008.

Read a complete transcript of the Financial Times' interview with Tim Mason here.

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