Thursday, July 17, 2008

End-of-the-Week Roundup: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and Related News and Knowledge

Fresh & Easy's chef gets out of the kitchen and chats with the Fast Food Maven

Orange County (Southern California) Register newspaper reporter Nancy Luna, who covers food retailing and related beats for the paper in Southern California, along with writing the Fast Food Maven blog on the Register's website, got Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chef Mike Ainslie (pictured at left) out of his kitchen for a little Q&A session the other day.

Among the questions the Fast Food Maven asks chef Ainslie is if he is doing anything about reducing the fat content in many of the Fresh & Easy store brand ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat prepared foods items which he created under the company's direction. High-fat and high-salt content has been one constant complaint among many consumers regarding Fresh & Easy's prepared foods.

Read chef Ainslie's answer to that question, along with additional questions and answers in the Fast Food Maven's Q&A interview with Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chef Mike Ainslie here.

Another day...another (new Fresh & Easy store) opening

Tesco opened its newest Fresh & Easy small-format, combination basic grocery and fresh foods market this morning in Fountain Valley, in Orange County, Southern California.

The Fountain Valley store, number 63 for Tesco, is located at 9380 Warner Avenue.

Today's opening of the new store was a far more subdued event than the recent opening of the new Fresh & Easy grocery store in Manhattan Beach was. That store opening received lots of attention, due mainly to the fact it was the first new store the grocer opened since taking a three month new store opening pause which ran from April until July 2, when the Fresh & Easy at 1700 Rosecrans in Manhattan Beach opened.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman wants an end to new fast food joints in South Central L.A.: But what about the fresh fruit and walnut salad on the menu at McDonalds?

As we reported in this July 15 piece, "Fresh Food to Bloom in An Inner-City Food Desert: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Breaks Ground For New Store in Underserved South Los Angeles Neighborhood," Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market broke ground on a site Monday in low-income South Los Angeles for one of its small-format, combination basic grocery and fresh foods markets.

South Los Angeles is underserved by food and grocery stores that offer a decent selection of basic groceries and fresh foods like fruits and vegetables at affordable prices.

The announcement by Tesco that it's building a store in one of these South L.A. neighborhoods has residents of other similar neighborhoods in the district--along with city hall and community groups who've been trying for years to lure grocers to the area--hoping the retailer will soon announce more South L.A. Fresh & Easy locations, since it is a part of the grocery chain's stated strategy to locate the small-format grocery markets in neighborhoods underserved by affordably-prices grocery and fresh foods stores.

One Los Angeles City Councilwoman, Jan Perry, who was a guest of Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and the developer of the mixed-use South L.A. development at 1011 East Adams where the grocery market will be the ground floor retail anchor, has launched her own campaign to pass a city law which would put a moratorium on any new fast foods restaurants like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and others in South Central Los Angeles.

Democrat Councilwoman Perry, who lives in South-Central L.A. and represents citizens in its city Council District 9, which is composed primarily of African American and Latino residents, is proposing the new fast food restaurant ban under the concept of a health zoning legislation, essentially saying the opening of any new fast food restaurants in South-Central Los Angeles is a personal and public health issue in that the additional stores pose a health threat to the areas residents.

The July 13 edition of the Washington Post has a story on Councilwoman Perry and her proposed legislation to slap a moratorium on new fast food restaurants in South-Central Los Angeles, which you can read here.

We can't help noting the irony of the photograph at left which accompanies the Post's story, As you can see, right next to the McDonald's sign, is another sign for the fast food feeder's healthy Fruit and Walnut Salad, which is one of the numerous healthier food choice items the chain has been adding to its menu. This leads us to ask: What actually defines a "fast food restaurant?"

For example, many mid-range sit down restaurants offer as many or more "unhealthy," high-fat and trans-fat-prepared items on their menu's as they do healthier choices. The foods on the menus at these types of restaurants (thinking Dennys for one) may require a knife and fork to eat and may be of slightly higher quality than a fast food restaurant is, but they also often use lots of salt in food preparation, load diners up on carbs, serve high-fat meats for breakfast, and the like.

In other words, what if a mid-range sit-down restaurant like Dennys that offers a mix of "unhealthy" and "healthy" foods in about the same ratio of say McDonalds wanted to open in South-Central?

Is that about equally-unhealthy to a fast food restaurant OK under City Councilwoman Perry's legislation because a diner needs a knife and fork to eat the breakfast that includes high-fat pork sausage, high-carb pancakes with sugar-laden maple syrup, along with more carbs in the form of bisquits with gravy prepared using transfats? The eggs that come with that breakfast are healthier though...unless that margarine they use to fry them with still contains transfats.

The answer is no. Restaurants like Dennys and similar sit-down fast food restaurants aren't included in the moratorium. Note: Neither are good old-fashion greasy spoon diners.
Perhaps even more interesting (not to mention germane to the focus of the blog), since many of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat prepared foods items have high fat and salt content, should they not be considered "fast food" under the councilwoman's definition? And, what about all the mini-marts in South-Central that specialize in selling ready-to-eat food items that at best can be described as "gut-bombs?"

It's some food (healthy of course) for thought. Removing consumer choice through legislation should never be an easy thing to do. It should always require lots of thought and debate, in our opinion.

Speaking of South L.A.--and we were:

Today's edition of the Los Angeles Wave, an independent city publication has a piece on the Fresh & Easy grocery store going into the $40 million affordable housing mixed-use development at 1011 East Adams in South Los Angeles, in which the Fresh & Easy grocery market will be the anchor retail tenant. Read the Wave piece here.

Norco 411:

The City Council in the Southern California city of Norco (Riverside County) just approved a new western-themed shopping center at what some residents describe as the congested corner of Second Street and River Road in the community. The center will have a new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store as its food retailing anchor, despite a number of objections from neighborhood and city residents, according to a report in yesterday's Press Enterprise, which is based in Riverside County in Southern California. You can read the story here.

Raising (store size in) Arizona:

Tesco may be opening numerous small-format (10,000 -to- 13,000 square foot) Fresh & Easy grocery stores throughout the Phoenix Metropolitan and East and West Valley regions in Arizona, but Costco Wholesale is taking the opposite approach.

The popular Washington state USA-based retailer, who's stores sell everything from basic groceries, USDA choice meat for less than most supermarkets sell lower grades for, fresh produce, and organic foods, to clothing, tires, furniture an more, recently opened its largest store yet in Arizona, in east Mesa. The city's new Costco store is 160,000 square feet, or about the same size as about 15 Tesco Fresh & Easy grocery stores combined.

The average Costco store is already big at about 140,000 square feet. However, adding an additional 20,000 square feet (nearly two Fresh & Easy markets combined) apparently demonstrates that size matters to Costco. Read a report about the new 160,000 square foot Costco Wholesale store in east Mesa, Arizona here from AZ

Las Vegas Market: A South African ad man in Vegas visits a Fresh & Easy

Pedro de Gouveia, who works for a South African advertising and design firm, attended the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) convention in May, which this year was held in Las Vegas, Nevada rather than its normal home of Chicago, Illinois. While at FMI, Mr. de Gouveia toured three Las Vegas region food and grocery stores: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, Vons, which is owned by Safeway Stores, Inc., and Food-4-Less, which are independently-owned, franchised discount warehouse format stores.

Since Mr. de Gouveia isn't an American, and it was his first time setting foot in a Tesco Fresh & Easy grocery store, we think our readers might find it interesting to read his impression and evaluation of the Las Vegas Fresh & Easy market, along with those on the Vons supermarket and Food-4-Less discount warehouse store as well.

Pedro de Gouveia wrote about his visits to the Tesco Fresh & Easy branch and the two other supermarkets in Las Vegas earlier this month in the online South African website, which bills itself as the nation's leading daily advertising, marketing and media resource for the industry. Read his analysis here.

Category killer on wheels

Veggie Mobile delivers produce to 'food deserts'

ALBANY, New York (AP) -- For years, Mel Williams rarely ate fruit and vegetables -- unless it came out of a can.

Fresh produce was too expensive or too far away until the state-funded "Veggie Mobile" started bringing the fruits and vegetables to him at a lower price.

"I'm a diabetic and I have problems with my heart," the 66-year-old said. "The canned stuff has so much sodium in it. So now with the fresh fruit, it's less sugar and carbohydrates and stuff." Williams is one of millions of Americans living in a "food desert," urban or rural areas unserved by a big grocery chain that can serve up fresh foods at lower costs. He's in Troy, a former industrial city about 10 miles from New York's capital. With the rapidly climbing cost of food and fuel, states and nonprofit groups are finding ways to get healthy food to these underserved areas. In New York, the health department gave $500,000 to the Veggie Mobile, operated by the Capital District Community Gardens and delivering fresh, locally grown produce to people in Albany, Troy and nearby Schenectady who otherwise might never buy a fresh apple or tomato.

SuperValu's Jewel-Osco to join 'small-marts' revolution in America

Melrose Park, Illinois-based Jewel-Osco, which is a 190-store regional supermarket chain owned by Minnesota-based SuperValu, Inc., has announced it's joining what the food and grocery industry blog Natural~Specialty Foods Memo has named the "small-mart" small-format food and grocery store revolution in the USA.

Jewel-Osco will build a 16,000 square foot grocery store in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood under the new banner: "Urban Fresh by Jewel." The retailer says the small-format store will be specialty-oriented, with a major focus on fresh, prepared foods. Sound familiar?

Fresh & Easy Buzz suggests Jewel-Osco consider calling its first Urban Fresh by Jewel's "little jewel." Why? Because we're hearing from a couple Chicagoland readers that it just might be "a little gem."

The new store, which will be located just west of downtown Chicago, is scheduled to open this fall, according to Jewel-Osco CEO Keith Nielsen.

Unlike Tesco's Fresh & Easy small-format (10,000 -to- 13,000 square feet) grocery stores, which are positioned as a single-format strategy, Jewel Osco says its "Urban Fresh by Jewel" small-format stores will be part of multi-format strategy in combination with its existing combination food and drug stores. There currently are about 190 Jewel-Osco combination food and drug superstores in Illinois and Indiana.

"The smaller format store (Urban Fresh by Jewel) is a complement to our larger, more traditional grocery stores," says Jewel-Osco president Keith Nielsen.

The SuperValu, Inc.-owned chain's strategy with its new small-format grocery stores is similar to what Safeway Stores, Inc. is doing with its "The Market" format, which are combination basic grocery and specialty stores designed for fill-in shopping as part of Safeway's multi-format food retailing strategy.

Additionally, it similar to what Wal-Mart is doing with it new Marketside small-format combination grocery and fresh, in-store prepared foods stores, the first four of which are set to open in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region this fall. The Marketside stores, like Safeway's current single "The Market" format store, "the market by Vons" in Long Beach, California, are part of the mega-retailer's multi-format food and grocery strategy, with its Supercenters, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, and Sam's Club club stores.

Choosing the name "Urban Fresh" for the new small-format banners name isn't completely "fresh" for Jewel-Osco. Canada's Sobey's has been operating small-format, urban-centered grocery stores named Urban Fresh in that part of North America for sometime now. But the retailer did add the "by Jewel" to the Urban Fresh name at least, so that counts for something.

An interesting note: As we've written about in Fresh & Easy Buzz before, the Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois region in one of three longer range markets Tesco has in mind for its Fresh & Easy chain. The other two are Florida and New York. Perhaps at least in part, the move by Jewel-Osco to create its own small-format chain on its home turf in Illinois and neighboring Indiana is a premptive measure of sorts to Tesco's future plans for the Chicago region?

If true, that's only a tiny part of the reason for the creation of the new small-format Urban Fresh by Jewel banner and chain by Jewel-Osco.

The two main reasons the retailer is doing so is first, there is a small-format food and grocery retailing revolution going on in the U.S., and second, Jewel-Osco, which SuperValu, Inc. obtained in its 2006 acquisition of then Boise, Idaho-based Albertson's, Inc., is planning the biggest expansion and new store growth spurt in more than three decades in the Illinois and Indiana markets. This expansion includes numerous Urban Fresh by Jewel small-format stores, along with many of the chain's flagship combination food and drug superstores.

Jewel-Osco is the food and grocery market share leader in the Chicago Metropolitan region, with a solid 40% market share.

There are numerous neighborhoods in urban Chicago, as well as in other urban and suburban cities in Illinois and Indiana, were small-format stores with a prepared and specialty focus could do extremely well.

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