Tuesday, July 15, 2008

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 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason and a group of Los Angeles civic and community dignitaries took shovels in hand on Monday morning and on cue together broke ground on the food and grocery retailer's new store site in a South Los Angeles neighborhood that's currently underserved by food stores that sell groceries and fresh foods at affordable prices.

The new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market will be the ground floor retail anchor of a new mixed-use residential and retail development at 1011 East Adams Boulevard @ Central Street, in the low-income long-neglected Southern region of Los Angeles.

The new development, pictured in the artist's rendering at the top of this piece, will have 80 affordable housing-priced apartments, above 19,000 square feet of retail space. The Fresh & Easy grocery store will take up about 13,000 of that 19,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

The residential units will be priced below market rate, with the monthly rents based on residents' annual incomes. Residents of South Los Angeles will be given first priority in applying to live in the attractive aprtment building.

South Los Angeles, which has a majority African American and Latino population, has long had a lack of supermarkets or grocery stores offering a decent selection of groceries, fresh produce, meats and other fresh foods offered at decent prices. Instead, most of the retail food stores in the regions neighborhoods are mini marts or convenience stores, which sell primarily snack foods, junk foods and liquor. Some of the mini marts sell groceries but at prices often twice that of a supermarket.

Many South Los Angeles residents have to drive miles out of the neighborhood to shop at a supermarket or discount food store. Additionally, since many of the neighborhoods' low-income and older residents don't drive or own cars, they have to either find a relative or neighbor to drive them to these far away supermarkets or more often than not take public transportation, which in many instances can take hours just to get to the supermarket.

A recent study prepared for the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles found residents of the Ninth City Council District (1011 East Adams is located in the district) spend over $400 million annually for food, groceries and related goods at supermarkets, discount stores and restaurants located outside their neighborhood.

This is money that instead of going to merchants in the Ninth City Council District neighborhoods, which results in the hiring of local residents and the keeping of tax dollars locally, is going to other, wealthier neighborhoods where the supermarkets, discount stores and restaurants are located.

This creates a vicious cycle in which because no investment is made in a neighborhood, unemployment soars, local facilities go unattended for lack of funds, and residents become frustrated over the lack of progress and improvement in their lifestyles.

A lack of grocery stores offering especially fresh foods at reasonable prices in a neighborhood also lends to the obesity problem, especially among children. Residents often purchase less healthy foods at the neighborhood mini marts and convenience stores rather than travel outside the neighborhood to the supermarkets. Fast food restaurants also make up the primary food service choices in South Los Angeles neighborhoods, which adds to the obesity problems particularly among kids.

The city and county of Los Angeles, along with South Los Angeles community groups and residents have been working hard to eliminate the "food desert" status of so many neighborhoods in the area. The government bodies and community groups are actively seeking out food retailers like Tesco's Fresh & Easy to locate stores throughout South Central.

Earlier this year, Tesco opened a Fresh & Easy grocery store in the "food desert" city of Compton in Los Angeles County. Before the Fresh & Easy grocery market opened, the city of about 100,000 had just one full-service supermarket offering groceries and fresh foods at decent prices.

Tesco has said on of its key strategies with Fresh & Easy is to open numerous stores in such neighborhoods underserved by grocery and fresh foods stores. Of the 63 Fresh & Easy grocery markets opened thus far in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona, just two are in neighborhoods that can be defined as underserved: the store in Compton and another in the Eagle Rock neighborhood in Los Angeles, which is a neighborhood transitioning from lower-income to middle and even upper-income residents.

The new store at 1011 East Adams in South Los Angeles that CEO Tim Mason and the Los Angeles civic and neighborhood dignitaries, which included the district's City Councilwoman Jan Perry, broke ground on today will be the third Fresh & Easy grocery store in a "food desert" neighborhood to date.

At this morning's event, Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason repeated the retailer's commitment, which some like the Los Angeles based Coalition for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores says has yet to be realized in a significant way, to continue opening more stores in underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

"Fresh & Easy is committed to serving all different types of neighborhoods. We strongly believe everyone deserves fresh, wholesome food at affordable prices, regardless of where they live," said Mr. Mason. "We are excited to open in South LA and bring local, high quality jobs to the neighborhood."

The store in the new development at 1011 East Adams also will bring about 20 -to- 30 new jobs to the neighborhood, according to Tesco.

Starting wages for a Fresh & Easy store-level employee is $10 an hour in Southern California, according to information publiched by Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

All of the store-level jobs, except for one or two--the manager and sometimes the assistant manager--are part-time.

Tesco offers a health insurance plan to all store-level workers who work at least 20 hours a week. The retailer says the company pays 75% of the cost of the health insurance for workers.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market also says it offers store-level employees an annual bonus of up to 10% of their total annual wages, and offers a 401-K savings plan with a company match. The retailer doesn't say what percent that company match is though.

Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market plans to soon announce its plans to open another small-format, combination basic grocery and fresh foods store in an underserved Los Angeles neighborhood.

Tesco has two Fresh & Easy stores set to open in underserved neighborhoods in Northern California next year as part of its entrance into that market, where it has plans thus far to open 19 stores in the Sacramento Metropolitan region and 21 stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, with many more to come after that. One of those Fresh & Easy grocery stores is in San Francisco's low-income Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood; the other is in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood. [See the related stories below.]

Los Angeles city and county officials and community and coalition group members have told Fresh & Easy Buzz they've identified about a dozen South Los Angeles neighborhoods that are in immediate need of supermarkets or grocery stores that offer a decent selection of basic groceries and fresh foods sold at affordable prices. They said there are many more than that needed; but that the first dozen are the most critical.

Related stories From Fresh & Easy Buzz:

No comments: