Friday, October 31, 2008

Prepared Foods Category Report: Fresh & Easy Introduces New Line of Mix & Match Prepared Foods; We Report, Offer Some Analysis and A Marketing Thought

A Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store employee checks the ingredients and code date on a package of fresh & easy brand fresh, prepared foods at the Los Angeles, California Eagle Rock neighborhood Fresh & Easy market. [Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times.]

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA is introducing a new line of ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat fresh, prepared foods products designed to be mixed and matched in order to create what the food retailer says can be over 200 quick meal ideas for consumers.

The new prepared foods line features 30 different varieties of fresh pastas, sauces, meat entrees, vegetarian dishes and various kinds of side dishes which pair to create meals for two for about $10, says Mike Ainslie, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's in-house company chef and the man who lead the team that created the new prepared foods items.

Fresh & Easy makes all of its fresh, prepared foods products at the company's central kitchen facility in Riverside County, (Southern) California. It then ships the ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat items to its stores in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metro market region multiple times per week.

The $10 mix and match meals for two concept appears to be in part Fresh & Easy's attempt to target the young singles and couples market, which based on our observations and analysis makes up the majority of the fresh food and grocery chain's current customer base.

The mix and match meals for two concept also should appeal to empty nest retirees and seniors, since the foods are ready-to-eat or heat and are affordably priced.

However, based on our observations seniors don't currently comprise a significant percentage of Fresh & Easy's customer base.

We think this is largely because the stores have self-service checkout and don't take paper personal checks. A significant number of adults over 62 prefer full-service checkout, based on industry research. Additionally, according to studies done by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), adults over 62 use (and prefer to use) the highest percentage of paper personal checks, rather than debit or credit cards, for purchases at retail stores.

Of course the mix and match nature of the new preapred foods line also has utility for families of any size. In fact, because the meals are designed for two, a family of say four can buy two different combinations, say a pasta and side dish combo and a meat and veggie combo, and then share it all family style. Twenty dollars for four is still a reasonable meal deal. Plus there likely will be leftovers.

In fact, it would be a good idea for Fresh & Easy to do some marketing around the new line in that regard. Say offering a mix and match meal deal for a family of four using the 30 items, positioning it around a theme such as: "Family Style Eating at an Affordable Price -- Mix and Match Dinners for Four With Leftovers to Boot"

Doing so would be a good way to appeal to larger families (can do a version for six as well), along with encouraging larger single purchases (and a bigger market basket or total ring), in addition to using the "dinner for two theme." We call it "mix and match" merchandising and marketing.

Commenting on the new line of mix and match fresh, prepared foods, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chef Mike Ainsle says: "We believe no one needs to sacrifice quality to save money and time," said Ainslie. "The new Mix-and-Match range (line in American supermarket speak) provides customers with countless restaurant-quality meals at incredible prices. With over 200 different pairings, customers can always find something new."

Below are a few examples of meals (including the prices) mixing and matching the 30 new ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat items offered by chef Anisle:

>Asparagus Parm Ravioli or Mushroom Tortellini & Mushroom Stroganoff Sauce - $5.98
> Sweet Chili Chicken with Chow Mein Noodles - $8.98
> Chicken Enchilada Casserole with Spanish Rice - $9.98
> Beef Bourguignon with Mashed Potatoes - $11.98
> Chicken Alfredo with Garlic Herb Fettuccine - $8.98
> Sweet and Sour Vegetables with Egg Fried Rice - $7.98
> Chicken Vindaloo with Yellow Basmati Rice - $9.98

In terms of the pricing of the seven new fresh & easy prepared foods items above, they are affordable but not any cheaper than similar fresh, prepared foods items at competing supermarkets such as Safeway, Vons, Ralphs, Stater Bros., Bashas, Wal-Mart's Marketside (Arizona), Raleys and others in the California, Nevada and Arizona markets, based on our pricing analysis.

All of these retailers and others in those respective markets are getting deeper and deeper into the fresh, prepared foods category. These retailers and others also have been offering regular deals on ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat products in their weekly advertising circulars, particularly Safeway, Vons and Ralphs.

Supermarkets like Fresh & Easy and the others are benefiting in the fresh, prepared foods category during the current economic recessionary period because consumers have cut back on the number of trips they make to restaurants and instead when they do buy prepared foods are doing it more so at the supermarket. [Read a just-released report from the National Restaurant Association on the decrease in consumers dining out at restaurants by clicking on the links in green: Full ReleaseFull Report]

The last month though has seen consumers cut back even on prepared foods purchases at supermarkets, instead buying more basic items and cooking more at home. Therefore, offering value-priced ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat prepared foods products is a good idea for supermarkets since it can allow them to capitalize more on the current trend in which consumers are eating out far less in restaurants of all formats.

In fact, recent data suggests in the third quarter of this year just ended, American consumers cut period on the quantity of food of any kind they purchases at retail. [For detailed information click on the links in green: Full StoryGDP Release.]

A restaurant-quality dinner for two or three purchased at the supermarket for about $10 is at least 50% cheaper than a similar dinner out at a restaurant, although at home you have to wait on yourself and don't get to enjoy the "dining out" experience. However, tough economic times call for such realities for most consumers.

We think it would be a good idea for Fresh & Easy and other food retailers to take their prepared foods merchandising and marketing a bit farther because of this "eating out less" consumer phenomenon, creating themes around the food items that allow consumers to have a restaurant dinner "out" at home, for example. Perhaps offer a free bottle of wine with a minimum $20 prepared foods purchase. Toss in four free plastic stemmed wine glasses with it as well and some nice white paper napkins.

Additionally, we suggest selling some "dining out at home" related items (and cross merchandising the items together in-store) with the prepared foods items. The related items could include desert items at an affordable price, various beverage tie-ins, an inexpensive white table cloth, a couple compact music discs and other items related to the eating out experience.

Its all about creating that "dining out at home" experience for the consumer, as well as creating add-on sales for the retailer.

Halloween 2008: A 'Great Pumpkin' You Likley Won't Find in the Supermarket Produce Department This Halloween; Or Ever

Every October for the last 35 years, San Francisco Bay Area-based Safeway Stores, Inc. sponsors the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Weigh-Off competition in that coastal city in the Bay Area.

Safeway, which operates over 600 supermarkets in California, Nevada and Arizona (and nearly another 1,200 more throughout the U.S. and Canada), awards the first-place winner of the Pumpkin-growing competition grand prize money of $6 per pound for the winning mega-gourd. The grocery chain also awards prize money to the top finalists.

That can be lots of money since the winners are really giant pumpkins.

The food and grocery industry Blog Natural~Specialty Foods Memo has a piece today -- Halloween 2008 -- about the 2008 Safeway-sponsored Half Moon Bay, California Pumpkin Weigh-in competition and it's winners (including the grand prize winner), which you can read by clicking the link here.

The winner and his giant pumpkin is pictured at the top of this post. But you have to read the story at the link in order to find out his name, how big of a winning pumpkin he produced, and how much in grand-prize money he won.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

News Report: Fresh & Easy Store ATM Machine 'To Go' is a 'No Go' For Burglars

Burglars using a stolen SUV tried to steal an ATM cash machine from the Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store in San Diego, California's Point Loma district early this morning, according to the San Diego Police Department.

Tape from the surveillance camera at the Fresh & Easy market on Catalina Boulevard near Talbot Street in the Roseville-Fleetridge neighborhood in Point Loma showed four people shattering the store's glass front door, entering the store, and once inside attaching a huge cable around the ATM machine, San Diego Police Sgt. Kerry Tom said.

Once the cable was affixed to the cash machine inside the store, the burglars attached the other end of the cable to the stolen Chevy Suburban sitting out front. They then took off in an attempt to drag the ATM machine down the street, according Sgt. Tom. But instead of getting away with the entire cash machine, the robbers pulled only the cover off, leaving the rest of the ATM machine (and all the cash inside it) still inside the store.

The stolen Chevy Suburban was found by police abandoned just a few blocks from the Fresh & Easy store, Sgt. Tom said.

The police haven't made any arrests yet. However they have dusted the SUV for fingerprints and are investigating other potential leads.

The Point Loma San Diego Fresh & Easy market (pictured at top) is one of the grocery chain's newest in the region, having opened on August 13.

Although Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market sells lots of food, grocery and beverage items "to go," the ATM machines are designed for in-store service only. Apparently the four burglars had to learn this fact the hard way early this morning.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Business & the Economy: The Wisdom of Warren Buffett: On Innovators, Imitators and Idiots

Warren Buffett is many things -- the second-richest person in the world right behind his good friend Bill Gates, who's charitable foundation Buffett is giving most of his $40-plus billion fortune away to; the founder of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., the largest corporate holding company on the planet with ownership in over 100 companies; the world's most able and humble investor; an advisor to Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama; and as he is called when it comes to all things economic and financial, the "Oracle of Omaha" (as in the Nebraska city where Berkshire Hathaway is based and where Buffett lives).

Warren Buffett also happens to be among the largest (if not the largest) individual investors in Tesco plc., the United Kingdom-based global food and general merchandise retailer that owns and operates Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in the U.S.

Buffett holds about $1.4 billion worth of Tesco stock, which amounts to a 3% -to- 4% total ownership stake in the company, which ha annual sales of $94,621 billion in its most recent fiscal year. Tesco is the world's third-largest retailer, after number two Carrefour Group of France and U.S-based Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, which is number one. Buffett also owns between $1.5 and $2 billion of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. stock.

Despite the current U.S. and global financial crisis and what looks like a resulting economic recession, the "Oracle of Omaha" is bullish on corporate America, along with business in other parts of the free world and China.

Buffett, who prefers to dine at one of the many Berkshire Hathaway-owned International Dairy Queen fast-food restaurants in the U.S. rather than at a fancy white tablecloth restaurant when he is on the road, has been the go-too-guy for numerous heavy hitters during the current financial and credit crisis and banking industry meltdown in the U.S. and abroad.

For example, the "Oracle of Omaha" serves as one of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama's, who he supports for President, chief economic advisers. Republican candidate for President John McCain has even consulted Warren Buffett on the financial crisis, even though he supports Senator Obama.

In fact, during the last Presidential debate, when asked by moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News to offer a few names of who he might choose as his Treasury Secretary if elected President, McCain mentioned only one name -- Warren Buffett. When asked the same question by the longtime CBS newsman, Obama also mentioned only one name, Warren Buffett, making sure to add Buffett is a supporter of his and one of his key advisers on all topics and issues economic and financial.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has talked with Buffett about the U.S. Government's $700 billion financial services industry bailout program, as have the CEO's of a number of banks and corporations, including Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, General Motors and General Electric, to name just a few.

Buffett also is mobbed by everyday citizens and investors whenever he goes, all asking him for investment advise in these troubling economic times.

The "Oracle of Omaha" also is playing a major part in the current financial crisis in the U.S. In just the last two months he has made a multi-billion dollar investment in ailing investment bank Goldman Sachs, a $3 billion investment in General Electric, which is hurting because it's GE Financial Services division is feeling the credit crisis meltdown, and in his role as the largest individual investor in San Francisco, California-based Wells Fargo Bank was a major force behind the bank's $12 billion acquisition earlier this month of Wachovia Bank, which happens to be the financial services and credit card services banker for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

In his Practically Radical column in today's Harvard Business Review Online, contributor Bill Taylor has a piece about Warren Buffett based on a one hour interview and discussion the investor had earlier this month with Charlie Rose, who hosts the popular Charlie Rose interview program on PBS.

In the interview, as Taylor writes about in today's HBR-Online, Buffett offered a simple yet insightful theory on how the U.S. got into the current financial mess.

Bill Taylor writes: "Leave it to Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest men, to offer the most valuable advice on this score. In a recent hour-long television interview, Buffet gave a masterful course on how the world got into this financial mess."

Taylor further writes: "At one point, his interviewer (Charlie Rose) asked the question that is on all our minds: 'Should wise people have known better?' Of course, they should have, Buffett replied, but there's a 'natural progression' to how good new ideas go wrong. He called this progression the 'three Is.' First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don't. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.

Buffet is too polite of a man to name the "idiots." But we can all guess who they are.

Click here to read Bill Taylor's full column (plus there are some interesting reader comments) in which he discusses Buffett's theory and offers some analysis of his own.

You can view Warren Buffett's interview and discussion from the Charlie Rose program at this link.

We don't see Warren Buffett accepting an offer either from Senator Obama or Senator McCain to be the next U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. At 75-years of age Buffett wants to continue running Berkshire Hathaway (he is currently picking a successor) and involve himself in other endeavors. It's not that the "Oracle of Omaha" isn't a patriot. Far from it. Rather, he is far more valuable in a role such as key advisor to a President rather than being put in the nuts and bolts position of Treasury Secretary. It would be a bad fit for Buffett to be in a nuts and bolts position like Secretary of the Treasury.

Secretary of Commerce might be an interesting position for Buffett though, particularly in an Obama administration because he has a strong relationship with the Democratic candidate who he supports for President.

Commerce has always been more of a ceremonial position, although it is a full cabinet department.

However, Commerce Secretary's who have had strong relationships to a President like Buffett has with Obama (Don Evans, the first Commerce Secretary for President George W . Bush and his longtime friend, for example), can be extremely influential and successful. Since Secretary of Commerce is less nuts and bolts than Treasury Secretary, it also allows a man for all seasons like Warren Buffett to impact a much wider range of economic, business and consumer issues than he would be able to do as Obama's Treasury Secretary, for example.

In fact, Commerce is the perfect position for a cheerleader for American business, which Buffett is. Not only could Warren Buffett continue to advise a President Obama (or even a President McCain) on key economic and finance-related issues as Secretary of Commerce, he could travel the U.S. and the world -- which he does already -- talking with corporate CEO's, investors and government leaders on a daily basis.

Buffett also would be a major confidence builder for U.S. business and the economy both at home and abroad. Additionally, the "Oracle of Omaha" already has relationships globally with Presidents and corporate chief that not even Obama or McCain currently have. And Buffett is widely respected throughout the world.

We can't think of a better Secretary of Commerce -- and one who should be given very broad portfolio by any President he serves -- for these trying times than the "Oracle of Omaha," Warren Buffett.

He is a man who not only rides (metaphorically) in the real "Straight Talk Express," but also only knows straight talk. Buffett walks the straight talk walk rather than just talking it.

The next President could use a trusted advisor like that. So could the country. And we think Buffett might just accept Commerce Secretary -- but would be reluctant to accept Treasury for the reasons we mentioned earlier.


>Click here for a selection of related stories about Warren Buffett and Tesco plc. previously published in Fresh & Easy Buzz.

>Click here to view the Web site for Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (Notice how Buffett extends his belief in frugality and simplicity to the design of the company Web site.)

>Click here for a list of companies owned by Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. The holding company owns a number of companies in the food and grocery space, including convenience store wholesaler Mclane Company, See's Candy Company, International Dairy Queen and The Pampered Chef.

>Click here for regularly-updated polls on the U.S. Presidential race between Democratic candidate Barack Obama and Republican candidate John McCain. The election is only seven days away, on November 4, 2008.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The UFCW Union, Tesco's Fresh & Easy, U.S. Labor Relations, and Next Week's Presidential and Congressional Election

As our regular readers are aware, Fresh & Easy Buzz has been reporting on, writing about and analyzing the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union's efforts to unionize Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store-level employees throughout this year. We've broken news on the issue and have been one of the few publications of any kind to cover the UFCW-Fresh & Easy issue comprehensively.

We've particularly been surprised the California mainstream business and political press has not reported more on the issue to date.

The main reason we're surprised more ink hasn't been devoted to the UFCW-Fresh & Easy unionization story by the mainstream press, especially in California where the company is based, is because labor issues are a key aspect of the current race for U.S. President.

It's not that labor issues are an important campaign talking point. They aren't. In fact labor issues are seldom brought up by either Democratic candidate Barack Obama or Republican candidate John McCain.

Rather, what is important is that Obama and McCain have very different opinions and positions on the Employee Free Choice Act. This piece of legislation, which passed by a majority vote last year in the U.S. House of Representatives and was defeated in the U.S. Senate by just a couple votes, would dramatically change the way labor unions are able to organize workers and how workers are able to choose union representation.

Senator Obama says is for the Employee Free Choice Act. Senator McCain says he is against it.

Under the act, workers would be able to select union membership by checking a box on a card rather than going through the secret ballot voting method which has been a part of U.S. labor law for decades. This is called the "card check system." If the majority of workers, say at a Fresh & Easy grocery store, checked "yes" on the card, that they want union representation, that would be sufficient to be recognized by the company as a union shop under the provisions of the legislation.

Those in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which in 2007 was a majority of U.S. House of Representative members and a near-majority of U.S. Senators (including some Republicans in both branches), say it's a more fair system for workers than the current secret ballot system.

Those against the act argue the "card check" aspect isn't fair because workers then aren't able to cast their votes in secret.

President George W. Bush is against the measure, so even if it would have passed the U.S. Senate last year, he had promised a veto.

Senator Obama has said if elected President he will sign a bill passed by Congress authorizing the Employee Free Choice Act.

Senator McCain has said he opposes the act. However, he hasn't gone as far as to say he would not sign the bill if passed by a majority in both houses of Congress. Many think if elected President he might sign such a bill as part of his history of reaching across the aisle, even though he says he currently is against the change from the secret ballot voting method.

Additionally, if the polls are right today, just eight days from the November 4 election, the Democratic Party looks to be set to pick up numerous new seats in the House and Senate. Of particular interest to those who support the Employee Free Choice Act is the Senate. If the Democrats were to pick up enough seats in the November 4 election to have a majority of 60 members, they would be able to pass any legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act in a veto-proof way. The magic number to avoid a filibuster in the U.S. Senate is 60 votes.

All the Democrats need though are two or three additional votes to pass the Employee Free Choice Act in the next legislative session, based on last years vote count. Even the most conservative estimates have the Democrats picking up at least five or six new Senate seats in the November 4 election. That would give them more than enough extra votes to pass the Employee Free Choice Act with a non veto-proof majority next year.

If Senator Obama wins he has indicated he will sign the legislation. If Senator McCain wins it is far from certain if he really would veto the Employee Free Choice Act, since if the Democrats have a huge majority in both the House and Senate, which today's polls suggest will happen, he would have to pick his fights -- and the bills he decides to veto -- very carefully since without the support of the Democratic majority in Congress he would be unable to get much if anything done during his first term as President.

It's against this backdrop -- that Fresh & Easy Buzz has been extensively covering the UFCW-Fresh & Easy unionization issue, and that U.S. labor policy could be in for a major shift as a result of the November 4 Presidential and Congressional election, even if Senator McCain wins the Presidency -- that we're pleased to see the Los Angeles Times run a story in this morning's addition on the UFCW campaign to unionize Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store-level employees.

The piece, by staff writer Jerry Hirsch, doesn't cover a lot of new ground in terms of what we've been reporting this year on the issue. However, it does discuss in interesting detail what is a new confidence within the UFCW about its chances to unionize Fresh & Easy and other non-union food and grocery retailing chains, which is something we've noted in our reporting as well. It also offers a number of additional insights.

Read the story, "A revived grocery union aims at Fresh & Easy," here.

We should note that in our extensive reporting, which has included talking with many Fresh & Easy store-level workers, there is far from unanimous agreement among the employees about joining the UFCW union.

As we reported here on September 17, the employees of the Fresh & Easy store in Huntington Beach, California petitioned Tesco Fresh & Easy for union representation. The company denied the petition, as we reported on October 2, telling the employees to hold a vote on the issue per current U.S. Labor Law policy, using the secret ballot system. The store employees and the UFCW have been discussing doing just that. A vote among the store's workers has yet to be scheduled.

Additionally, we reported in this September 26 piece, employees of at least two other Fresh & Easy stores had been debating petitioning the company for union representation like the Huntington Beach store workers did. However, according to our sources, those employees have decided not to do so since seeing the response from the company in which they denied the Huntington Beach store employees request (which we predicted would be the case).

The workers at these two additional Fresh & Easy stores are thinking more along the lines of having a direct vote since they know that would be what the company tells them to do if they were to request UFCW representation via a letter, which is what the Huntington Beach store employees did.

But chain-wide it is a mixed bag among the many store workers we've talked with. Some want union representation, others are very much against it, and still others (the majority of those we've talked with) don't have much of an opinion on it one way or the other.

We've seen a similar pattern with Whole Foods Market, Inc. store-level employees who the UFCW has tried to unionize for years. There is a small core of Whole Foods store workers who want the union, a core of employees who are completely against it, and a middle -- those who are non opinionated about the issue and therefore have tended to side with the group that is against unionization. This group is sort of like the "undecided" in an election. They need to be persuaded. In the Whole Foods' case the company has been able to persuade them to oppose unionization.

However, the UFCW has gotten much farther, much faster with its Tesco Fresh & Easy campaign that it has with Whole Foods, for example. After all, the Huntington Beach store has been open less than a year and the employees have already requested union representation.

And of course, come next year when a new President takes power, particularly if it is Barack Obama, along with a Democratic majority in the Senate if that happens, which is likely, we predict the Employee Free Choice Act will be passed by both houses of Congress and then signed by a President Barack Obama -- and perhaps even by a Maverick President John McCain if he pulls it out and is elected on November 4. After all, Mavericks call themselves that because they do the unexpected; right?

This would mean the UFCW and other labor unions would have a much easier time organizing Fresh & Easy store and others employees. The workers would need only to check a "yes" or "no" on the "quick check card" to vote on whether or not they want union representation.

This explains to a large degree the renewed optimism expressed by the UFCW in today's Los Angeles Times story. It also explains in part why American organized labor is out working in full force nationally to elect Senator Obama and more Democrats to Congress.

Tens of thousands of union members are working in grass roots efforts across the U.S. for the Obama campaign, as well as donating more money to Senator Obama than they have to any other candidate for President in modern times. In fact, although "Joe the Plumber," who we were sad to find out isn't actually a licensed plumber, has decided to hit the campaign trail for Senator McCain, we are told by organized labor there are at least a couple hundred licensed, union plumbers campaigning for Senator Obama. We suspect at least one has to be named Joe.

The current U.S. fiscal crisis and resulting economic recession is dominating the current Presidential campaign, as it should be. However, labor relations and how labor policy will play out in the future is a near silent but very important aspect of this year's election. It's also related to the fiscal crisis and economic recession -- big time.

As such, labor issues, including the UFCW-Fresh & Easy situation, should be receiving much more attention and coverage than they have been this year. We are doing our part by focusing on what just happens to be one of the hottest labor issues directly on our beat.

[Editor's note: Click here and here and here for a selection from Fresh & Easy Buzz of past reporting, writings and analysis on the UFCW-Fresh & Easy issue.]

Monday, October 27, 2008

Category Management Report: Fresh & Easy Conducting Wine Category Review and SKU Rationalization; We Offer Some Analysis

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has been conducting a category review and sku rationalization in its wine, craft beers and liquor category, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned from sources involved in the process. The focus is primarily on wines, which is a key product category for the Fresh & Easy stores.

All of the current 96 Fresh & Easy stores, except two in Southern California we are aware of (Hollywood and Van Nuys), sell wine and craft beers. A number of the combination grocery and fresh foods markets sell hard liquor along with wine and beer. Not all of the units offer the spirits for sale however. The Hollywood and Van Nuys stores don't have permits to sell alcoholic beverages of any kind.

The wine category sku rationalization process is being led by category manager Karen Fletcher, who came to Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA from Tesco in the United Kingdom as part of the start-up team. Ms. Fletcher is a native of Britain.

The category review also comes not to long after Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market went through a series of changes in its grocery merchandising department, which found former director of grocery Charlotte Maxwell, also a British national, leaving Fresh & Easy corporate headquarters and her position to return to Tesco in the UK to accept a director position at corporate headquarters there, as we've thus far been the only publication to report.

Ms. Maxwell was replaced as Fresh & Easy's corporate director of grocery merchandising by Sean McCurley, who previously was director of fresh foods. That position was equal to Ms. Maxwell's in terms of the company structure. Mr. McCurley also is a British citizen.

As part of the wine category review and sku rationalization, Fresh & Easy is looking at reducing the overall number of skus the stores carry in the category, focusing on fewer items and maximizing total sales per item count, according to our sources. Some slow moving wine skus have already been discontinued.

There also has been some merchandising-related discussion as part of the category review involving flipping the wine and beer aisles towards the store's freezer case sections from their current locations, although our sources said they aren't sure of the current status of this previous discussion.

When Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA was first organized, the wine and beer department was under the grocery department, which is normally the case with food retailing companies. However, sometime later category manager Karen Fletcher requested her category be placed in the fresh department and that she report to Sean McCurley, who ran fresh at the time, rather then Ms. Maxwell, who then was in charge of grocery.

Fresh & Easy's senior corporate directors approved of the change. Following Ms. Maxwell's departure back to Tesco in the UK and Sean McCurley assuming her grocery director position, the wine, beer and spirits category was moved back over to grocery with Ms. Fletcher's blessing, according to our sources.

Wine primarily, but also beer and spirits, is a major focus for Fresh & Easy, as it is internationally for Tesco. Karen Fletcher was brought over to the U.S. to build the category as an integral part of the Fresh & Easy merchandising mix. Part of that strategy includes having numerous proprietary, specialty-blended wines produced for the grocery chain, including numerous wines from Australia. Tesco is among the leading retail buyers of Australian wines in the world.

Wine category analysis

The wine category hasn't yet been all that Tesco has expected it to be at the Fresh & Easy stores. Our analysis is this has to do with a number of factors, most notably the fact California wines, which Fresh & Easy stores are short on compared to its competitors, are much more popular than foreign wines in California, Nevada and Arizona, where the current 96 Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods markets are located.

Even more so, it has to do with the highly competitive nature of wine, beer and spirits retailing in each of these markets. Not only are major supermarkets like Safeway Stores, Inc. major wine retailers in the Western U.S., for example, but there are category killer retailers like Beverages & More and Cost-Plus World Market, along with Trader Joe's and many others (including scores of independents), that have been selling wine in these markets very successfully for decades. These retails know the market, the customer base, and the wine producers almost as much as they know their own family members in many cases.

As a result, Fresh & Easy has far more competition in its Western U.S. markets than say Tesco has in its home market of the UK when it comes to wine retailing.

The wine category product mix at Fresh & Easy also lacks proper regionalization, sub-regionalization and localization. Perhaps this has been recognized and is one of the reasons for the category review and sku rationalization?

Like it has done with its entire product mix, Tesco basically has tried to merchandise its Fresh & Easy stores in many ways like they are British small-format stores (read Tesco Express) in the UK, merely transplanted to the Western U.S. This has resulted in lots of failures, lost sales and missed opportunities.

Additionally, when it comes to the wine category, there arguably isn't a category that it's more important to regionalize, sub-regionalize and localize. Wines that do extremely well in Northern California, for example, often sell poorly in Southern California. The same regional differences hold true in Nevada and Arizona. Wine brands in the U.S. are regional and even sub-regional. What sells well in San Francisco often isn't what sells well just 80 and 90 miles away in the Central Valley cities of Stockton or Modesto, for example.

Further, since Fresh & Easy has so many proprietary brands, wine brands consumers have never heard of, they have had to hope shoppers might merely like the price or how the bottle looks and give them a try. That's a tough way to sell wine, especially in California.

A number of the proprietary Fresh & Easy wines have done well though, particularly its $1.99 a bottle ($2.99 in Nevada and Arizona) Big Kahuna brand, which is a clone of Trader Joe's famous and super-successful "Two Buck Chuck" value-priced wine brand and line. Big Kahuna is an Australian wine. TJ's "Two Buck Chuck," which last year won the top award in the California State Fair Wine Competition, is a California wine. It's produced by Ceres, California-based Bronco Winery.

In terms of the wine category review and sku rationalization, Fresh & Easy needs to add more California wines, sub-regionalize and localize its wine brand and item selection and merchandising program if it wants to be a successful wine retailer in its respective markets, in our analysis.

This is especially true in California, which is a bigger wine sales market than Nevada and Arizona combined are. (Southern California alone and Northern California alone are both respectively even bigger than both states combined. Since California is the major U.S. wine-producing state, as well as one of the top wine regions in the world, consumers are much more familiar with wines then elsewhere in the U.S. The state also has the highest per capita wine consumption in the U.S.

It also follows that the state has the most competitive and generally the best wine retailers in the country.

California wine consumers are big on sub-regional differences. For example, consumers in Southern California want lots of wines from the Santa Barbara region (a major local wine producing region) want lots of wines in stores from that region, along with from elsewhere in California, the U.S. and the world.

In Northern California (which is the main wine-producing region in the state) consumers expect to see lots of Napa and Sonoma-produced wines on store shelves, along with wines from the coastal region and the Central Valley and Foothill regions. Farther up north it's important to add far Northern California and even some Oregon and Washington State-produced wines.

In fact, in the Central Valley, a good wine retailer also merchandises as many wines from that home region and the nearby Sierra Nevada foothill region than he or she does from Napa and Sonoma.

And in coastal Northern California (the Monterey-Big Sur wine region), good wine retailers there will put a major focus on wines from that wine-producing area.

It's all about localization -- and California is full of local, micro wine regions.

Having a basic selection of proprietary, branded wines is fine for Fresh & Easy. However, as long as that is the major focus in the stores it won't be a top wine retailer in its respective markets. There are too many good wine retailers doing the right things for that to happen.

However, if as part of this category review the retailer focuses on the three things we outlined earlier, it has a far better chance of improving its current wine category sales and eventually joining the ranks of the top wine retailers in the markets it has its stores in.

When it comes to wine merchandising and retailing in the Western USA, especially in California, everything is local, despite the fact imports have an important place in the overall category product mix.

Southern California Market Report: Beverages & More to Join Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy to Form Manhattan Beach Food and Beverage Retailing Triangle

A portion of the old Office Depot building, along with an adjacent warehouse, that Tesco remodeled and turned into its Manhattan Beach, California Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store at 1700 Rosecrans Avenue will house a competitor of sorts to Tesco's Fresh & Easy, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned.

Beverage and specialty foods category killer retailer Beverages & More (BevMo) plans to locate one of its discount spirits, wine, beer and specialty foods superstores next door to the 1700 Rosecrans Avenue Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods market, inside a portion of the building not used by the grocery chain for its market.

BevMo will join a Trader Joe's specialty grocery store, which is located at 1800 Rosecrans Avenue just across the parking lot from the Fresh & Easy store, as neighbors in what looks to be not only a one stop food and beverage shopping center but also is shaping up to be a very competitive corner of Manhattan Beach when it comes to food and beverages, especially beer, wine and spirits. We call it the Manhattan Beach food and beverage retailing triangle.

The city of Manhattan Beach Planning Commission recently voted to approve the Beverages & More store going into the 1700 Rosecrans Avenue location after some discussion about traffic concerns at the location, along with a review of the retailer's alcohol sales policy. After a discussion of BevMo's liquor sales policy and potential traffic concerns at the site, the planning commission voted to approve the chain's application to remodel a portion of the empty buildings next door to the Fresh & Easy, approving its permit. [You can view the planning documents here:]

Beverages & More stores, which average about 10,000 -to- 12,000 square feet, are described by the retailer as "alcohol-beverage lifestyle superstores." The stores devote about half their square footage to spirits, wines, craft beers and non-alcoholic beverages. The alcoholic beverage items range from the lowest end, price-focused brands, to the highest-end premium spirits, wines and craft beers. The stores also sell lots of varieties of bottled waters, sodas and new age-style non-alcoholic beverages.

The other half of the stores are devoted to selling shelf-stable specialty, natural and gourmet foods; snacks (both mass market and specialty brands); national brand and specialty candies; and non-foods items related to beverages and lifestyle. The non-foods merchandising mix includes wine and drink glasses (glass and disposable), paper plates and napkins, bar accessories and related items.

The Beverages & More stores also have refrigerated cases where cheeses, deli items and a small selection of related specialty and gourmet prepared foods products are offered for sale.

The focus of the stores revolves around alcoholic beverages and specialty foods (the "More" in Beverages & More. There's an education/sampling center in each store where wine, spirits and craft beer tastings are conducted regularly. Often times specialty food product sampling is combined with the beverage tastings.

Education about wine, spirits and craft beers is a big part of the chain's marketing. Wine makers and other experts are brought in-store regularly for seminars, tastings and related events. [Read about BevMo's chief wine buyer at this link: Wilfred Wong / Beverages & More's drinker in chief.]

The positioning of the BevMo chain is to be the best one-stop source for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage items in terms of overall selection (from low-end to premium), along with offering the best prices and value on the category items. Specialty foods also are priced at everyday low prices. The objective is to be a category killer in the alcoholic beverage and specialty foods categories.

BevMo, which is headquartered in Concord in the San Francisco Bay Area, currently operates 93 alcoholic beverage and specialty foods superstores: 45 in Northern California, 39 in Southern California and 9 in Arizona. Locations are based in and around the major metropolitan markets of San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego in California; and Phoenix in Arizona. The Manhattan Beach store will be number 94 for the chain.

Some history

Beverages & More is currently owned by the investment firm TowerBrook Capital Partners LP, which acquired the chain in 2007 from another investment firm.

However, it has an interesting entrepreneurial history.

BevMo was founded in 1994 in Concord, California by Steve Boone, an entrepreneur who previously had founded the Liquor Barn alcoholic beverage category killer chain in 1979 in partnership with Safeway Stores, Inc. Safeway later sold the chain when the supermarket company was acquired and taken private by the KKR investment firm in a leveraged buyout. (KKR later took Safeway Stores, Inc. public, which is its current status.)

Boone put together an investment group and opened the first Beverages & More store in Walnut Creek (next door to Concord) in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1994, beginning his second act in the liquor category killer retailing business.

The BevMo stores have many similarities to Boone's Liquor Barn stores. However, the Beverages & More stores are more upscale in design. They also feature specialty foods which the Liquor Barn stores didn't.

Boone ran BevMo for a number of years, opening about 20 or so stores, all in the Bay Area. He later ran into some financial problems in terms of operating capital for the chain and it was eventually sold to an investment group which eventually began adding new stores and expanding into Southern California and Arizona. Since acquiring Beverages & More last year TowerBrook Capital partners LP has been growing the store count as well, focusing particularly in Southern California and Arizona in terms of new store openings.

The Manhattan Beach retail triangle

With the BevMo store slated to go in right next door to Tesco's Fresh & Easy -- along with the Trader Joe's right across the parking lot -- 1700-1800 Rosecrans Avenue is set to become a competitive mecca for the sales of alcoholic beverages and specialty foods.

Beverages & More puts a big emphasis on selling wine, for example, which also is something Fresh & Easy and Trader Joe's do. BevMo often runs hot promotions in the wine category. For example it recently concluded its annual "buy one bottle at regular price get a second bottle of equal value for 5-cents" sale. Each year during this promotion the retailer moves tens of thousands of cases of wine in its stores. The retailer offers similar promotions regularly.

One point of differentiation Fresh & Easy has is that it sells basic food and grocery items, along with prepared foods, natural and specialty foods, and alcoholic beverages. Since Trader Joe's focus is natural and specialty products at discount prices and BevMo's focus is alcoholic beverages and specialty foods, this is helpful to Fresh & Easy in this up-an-coming super-competitive location.

Of course, wine is an important category for Fresh & Easy. The retailer also needs to sell lots of prepared and specialty foods along with its basic groceries in its stores. That's where the bigger market basket (average ring) sizes and higher margins come from. Having a category killer like BevMo coming in right next door will likely kill some of these category sales for the Fresh & Easy store.

The Trader Joe's at 1800 Rosecrans, which also sells wine and craft beers and prepared foods along with its natural and specialty foods focus, does very well. Local sources tell us the store grosses about $500,000 in weekly sales. This isn't an unusual number for a Trader Joe's store even though they average only about 10,000 square feet. The retailer has among the highest gross sales per square foot of any food and grocery retailer in the U.S.

The 17000 Rosecrans Fresh & Easy location, which opened in early July of this year, also has been a good one for Tesco -- one of its best thus far actually. According to our estimates, which come from a very good source, the store has been averaging about $200,000 in gross weekly sales since shortly after opening. That's among the highest in sales of all of the current 96 Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods markets open to date.

Based on how well both the Trader Joe's and the Fresh & Easy are doing in their neighboring Rosecrans Avenue locations in Manhattan Beach, its rather safe to say it is a good food and grocery retailing location.

In fact, the Fresh & Easy store there appears to have thus far benefited from locating near the existing Trader Joe's unit. This isn't unusual in good locations. A new retailer can tap into an existing retailer's customer base and even expand the base. And since the Fresh & Easy store sells basic groceries and the Trader Joe's doesn't, that's a complementary aspect despite the fact the two retailers also have many categories in common from a competitive standpoint.

Perhaps the addition of the Beverages & More store in the mix will even further expand the customer base at what will become the 1700-1800 Rosecrans food and beverage retailing triangle in Manhattan Beach?

One thing though is for sure, shoppers will be able to competitively shop rather easily for that bottle of wine or 6-pack of beer, along with having a wide-variety of specialty and natural foods items to choose from at competitive prices with the addition of the new BevMo store to the neighborhood mix. Perhaps we should name the entire Manhattan Beach retail triangle -- Trader Joe's, Fresh & Easy and now BevMo -- "Booze and More?"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Southern California Market Report: Cathedral City Votes to Approve New Fresh & Easy Market; One Councilman Dissents Citing Low Wages As His Reason

At its meeting last Wednesday night the city council in the Southern California desert region city of Cathedral City unanimously approved an application by Tesco in a 4 -to- 1 vote to locate a new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market grocery and fresh foods store on a 1.5 acre site on Date Palm Drive south of 30th Avenue in the city.

The one dissenting councilman, Greg Pettis, voted against approving the Fresh & Easy store for the Date Palm Drive location, sighting as his main reason that the grocery chain pays store-level employees too low of hourly wages relative to its unionized competitors.

Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market pays store-level $10 an hour in Southern California ($9 an hour in Nevada and Arizona). Each store is staffed with 10 -to- 25 employees. All store workers are part time except for the store manager. The store team leader (assistant manager) makes a starting hourly wage of $13 an hour. Most team leaders work part-time, although some work full-time.

Part time employees who work 20 or more hours a week receive a health insurance plan which the grocery chain says it pays 75% of, with employees contributing 25%. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market says it also offers all store level employees a 401-K plan. However the company does not say how much of an employer match is offers the store employees.

Councilman Pettis said at the Wednesday night meeting: "We all want new business for Cathedral City. But I'm not convinced Fresh & Easy is one of them."

He said Fresh & Easy is a non-union grocery chain and that union chains in the market such as Vons, Safeway, Stater Bros. and others pay considerably higher wages than Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market offers its store-level employees.

Pettis also said he voted against the Fresh & Easy because (in his opinion) it doesn't generate any significant sales tax for Cathedral City.

"There's no tax on food," Pettis said at Wednesday night's city council meeting. "Other items, such as paper products or light bulbs are taxed but they account for less than 10 percent of the store's gross sales," he said.

The city council asked city staff to provide an estimate on about how much sales tax revenue the new Fresh & Easy market on Date Palm drive would generate annually for the desert city. Administrative City Services Director Tami Scott estimates the store might bring in about $45,000 -to- $50,000 annually in sales tax revenue.

The other four city council members were in support of the new Fresh & Easy market coming to town however, all voting to approve the grocery chain's permit to locate the store on the 1.5 acre parcel on Date Palm Drive.

City councilman Councilman Chuck Vasquez said he was enthusiastic about the Fresh & Easy store, telling his fellow council members and audience members at the meeting he believes the new store will spur economic development activity in the corridor where the grocery market will be located.

Councilman Pettis, an up-and-comer on the council according to local observers, disagreed. However, his three fellow city lawmakers agreed with councilman Vasquez, resulting in the 4 -to- 1 majority cote in favor of the Fresh & Easy store coming to town at the Date Palm Drive location.

A Fresh & Easy Buzz reader who was at the Wednesday night city council meeting said there wasn't any community objection to the new Fresh & Easy store voiced at the meeting by city residents.

The council didn't hold his lone no vote against him though. They unanimously voted to send Councilman Pettis to be the city council's voting delegate at the annual National League of Cities Annual Business Meeting on Nov. 15 in Orlando, Florida. This is the annual convention for all of America's incorporated cities, where numerous decisions are made regarding political and policy advocacy.

Since the annual convention comes just two weeks after a new U.S. President will have been elected, this year's meeting is considered to be a very important one for municipalities, particularly because of the current economic slump that finds so many U.S. cities unable to balance their budgets, along with many being on the verge of bankruptcy.

Cathedral City is located in the Southern California desert region, near cities such as Indio, Palm Desert and Palm Springs. This part of Southern California is key to Tesco's Fresh & Easy. Not only is its 850,000 square foot distribution center located in the region in Riverside County but its also a market region where the grocery chain already has numerous stores and plans to open many more.

As we often write about, Tesco's strategy with Fresh & Easy is to open a "critical mass" of stores in various market regions in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada, and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metro region market.

This strategy calls for having Fresh & Easy markets in nearly every city in these designated market regions (and multiple stores in some cities), locating the stores about 1.5 -to- 2 miles from each others in order to achieve this "critical mass." Think about what Starbucks does with its cafes and Walgreens does with its drug stores in terms of "critical mass" store location strategy, for example.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tesco Confirms it Will Open Eleven New Fresh & Easy Stores in The Phoenix, Arizona Region; Will Bring Store Count in Market to 38 Once All Open

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market USA will add 11 new stores (plus an additional previously confrirmed store opening on November 13) to the 26 it already has open in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region, the grocery chain confirmed today in a press release.

Below are the locations of those 11 new Phoenix area stores:

  • 12th & Bell, Phoenix
  • 91st Ave & Union Hills, Peoria
  • 35th Ave & Camelback Rd, Phoenix
  • 51st Ave & Glendale, Glendale
  • 48th St. & Ray, Phoenix
  • 48th St. & Carefree Highway, Phoenix
  • 91st Ave & Northern, Peoria
  • Cotton & Greenway, Surprise
  • Cooper & Warner, Gilbert
  • 99th Ave & Lower Buckeye, Phoenix
  • Alma School & Ray, Chandler
In addition, a new Fresh & Easy fresh foods and grocery market will open on November 13 at Gilbert & Guadalupe in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, the company says.

Tesco already has an existing store in Gilbert at 1537 South Higley Rd.

Back on October 13, Fresh & Easy announced in this press release that the store at Gilbert & Guadalupe was open and located in a former vacant supermarket building the grocer remodeled. It appears including that Gilbert store in that October 13 release was premature since the grocer is now announcing the very same store will open on November 13 in its press release issued today.

One of the 11 new stores confirmed today also is located in Gilbert, at Cooper & Warner Streets. That will bring the total number of Fresh & Easy stores in the city to three.

Gilbert is one of the four Phoenix Metro region cities (along with Chandler, Mesa and Tempe) where Wal-Mart opened one of its first four small-format Marketside combination grocery and fresh foods stores on October 4.

Wal-Mart also plans to open a Marketside store in Peoria, Arizona, perhaps by as early as the end of this year. That will be Wal-Mart's fifth Marketside store in the Phoenix Metro market.

Two of the 11 new Arizona Fresh & Easy stores listed above happen to be located in Peoria as well. It should be interesting to observe how well (and competitively) Wal-Mart's Marketside and Tesco's Fresh & Easy play together in Peoria.

Some of the 11 new Fresh & Easy stores will open before the year is over. Others will open in early 2009.

The opening of the new store in Gilbert on November 13 will bring Tesco Fresh & Easy's Arizona store count to 27. The addition of the 11 new stores in the region confirmed today by the grocery chain will take that total store count number to 38 in the Arizona market.

As of today, Tesco operates 96 small-format, convenience-oriented Fresh & Easy grocery and fresh foods markets in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada, and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metro region.

About half of the 96 stores are in Southern California, with the remaining stores located in the Las Vegas and Phoenix regions.

Special Product Focus: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Fan Blogger Reviews Some Ready-to-Heat and Ready-to-Eat Chow

Oakmonster, who founded the "Temple of Fresh & Easy" fan blog, and who we've written about before, recently took on a partner, Amy, at the blog, where the two food mavens -- Oakmonster, also known as Oakley, and Amy -- review various fresh & easy store brand products in various categories sold at Fresh & Easy fresh food and grocery markets.

Oakmonster and Amy use a cute and fun rating system to rate the fresh & easy brand products they review. Below is their rating system, from best -to- bad:

Nirvana: Nothing else better
Heavenly: Impressive
Earthbound: So-so.
Purgatory: Could improve
Hell: Can't be saved

Amy recently reviewed a number of fresh & easy brand fresh, prepared foods items. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market makes its prepared foods items in a central kitchen facility, then ships them under refrigeration DSD-style to its 96 stores in Southern California, Metro Las Vegas, Nevada, and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan market region.

The fresh & easy refrigerated ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat fresh, prepared foods items are created by the retailer's in-house chief, Mike Ainslie.

Below are Amy's recent reviews (October 9) of a number of fresh & easy ready-to-heat and ready-to-eat (or grab-and-go) prepared foods items. Remember the ratings guide above when you view her ratings in the reviews. All of the items were purchased by Amy at a Fresh & Easy store in Las Vegas, Nevada.

1. (Ready-to-heat) Penne Pesto: This dish was delicious, light and flavorful -- which is perfect in the Las Vegas heat. I was so pleasantly surprised when the F&E pastas microwaved and didn't dry out. Fresh vegetables in this dish complement the pesto without overwhelming it. If I had one less positive comment it would be that I wanted my pesto heavier. But, disclaimer: I like a lot of pesto. My mom split the dish with me and it was the perfect proportion of pesto to penne for her.

Verdict: heavenly

2. (Ready-to-heat) Penne Arribiata: OMGBBQ. SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SO YUMMY. Spicy without being painful, with deliciously tender red and yellow and green peppers in the dish that add an aesthetic as well as aromatic appeal to this meal. (hey! I made a rhyme!) I've bought this dish a few times now. It is a perfect entree, late night snack, lunch idea.

Verdict: Nirvana

3. (Ready-to-heat) Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce: First of all it is only $1.99! You can find it in the sandwich and sushi display in the front of the store and it is the perfect amount of pasta for one person. Fresh diced tomatoes are throughout this dish and the sauce is the perfect shade of pink. I usually add some olives to it for my own personal perfection. This is what I'm having for dinner tonight.

Verdict: Nirvana

4. (Ready-to-Eat) Tomato, Basil, Mozzerella Sandwich: The roll used on this sandwhich is delicious. Somewhere between a ciabatta and french roll, it is the perfect complement to the fresh buffalo mozz, fresh basil and tomato slices with a sprinkle of lemon juice/pinenut mixture on it. The ratio of bread to cheese to tomato to greens is DIVINELY PERFECT.

Verdict: Heavenly

5. (Ready-to-eat) Ham & Swiss sandwich: I've had this sandwich 3 times and it was delicious all three times, although once the bread wasn't the greatest--just passable. The next two times the bread was good, but not as good as on the tomato/basil/mozz sandwich and not as good as the individual french demi baguettes in the back of the store. The Ham is sliced thin enough for a gal like me who likes her lunchmeat wafer thin. The swiss is creamy. The dijon mustard has just the right amount of bite. This is the sandwich I'm tucking into my carry on for my flight to Aruba tomorrow.

Verdict: Heavenly

6. (Ready-to-heat) Chicken Escallopes and Rosemary Garlic Red Potatoes: I'm listing these together because together they take about 10 minutes to make and presentation and taste wise appear like you slaved in the kitchen for hours. Chicken fillets are in a crust of spices including rosemary, thyme, basil and garlic. Pan saute them in extra virgin olive oil for 10 min, turning frequently. Red Potatoes are in olive oil, rosemary and garlic mixture and microwave for about 3 1/2-4 minutes. OMGBBQ I could eat this everyday, for real.

Verdict: Nirvana

7. (Ready-to-heat) BBQ Chicken Pizza, Hawaiian Pizza and Pepperoni Pizza: for $4.49ish, they are a bargain and easy to pop in the oven. I did not add any extra spices to them and they were alright. They tasted like frozen pizza despite being fresh take and bake style. DiGiorno is better. Now, that said, some fresh garlic and tomato added to the pepperoni might have elevated its rating. My main criticism of the pizzas is that the crust was cardboard like.

Verdict on all 3: Earthbound

8. (Ready-to-eat) Fruit and Cheese Plate: Do you have to bring an appetizer to book club? For $4.49 this is the ticket. About 6 small rounds of bread with a small piece of brie, some white cheese that seemed Havarti like, a few cubes of cheddar, sliced apples and dried apricots. This also makes a great snack and will also be in my carry on on the flight to Aruba tomorrow.

Verdict: Nirvana

9. (Ready-to-heat) Beef Fajitas: Oakley rated this a Nirvana, so I will give it another go after my vacation. I think perhaps the issue I had with the marinade/spices is cilantro. I'm not a huge fan. But the beef was tender.

Verdict: Earthbound

10. (Ready-to-eat) Pro-Yo Berry Crunch, Dark Chocolate Pudding and Vanilla Banana Smoothie: I AM ADDICTED to all three and my F&E is STILL out of them. HELP!

Verdict: Nirvana

11. (Ready-to-heat) Chili Marinated Chicken Tenders The plastic container melted in my microwave and the odor--oh good god the odor. This was a freak incident as no other F&E plastic container has fared a similar fate. I didn't eat them obviously and now I am (irrationally) afraid of them. Have you tried them? Should I give it another go?

Verdict: Purgatory for now, subject to change.

Review Synopsis

Amy reviewed 14 fresh & easy fresh, prepared foods items. 11 items but 3 pizza varieties.
7 of the items are ready-to-heat foods. 4 are ready-to-eat items.

The Review Scale:

Nirvana : Nothing else better
Heavenly : Impressive
Earthbound : So-so.
Purgatory : Could improve
Hell : Can't be saved

The Breakdown:

Based on the review scale above, this is the breakdown of Amy's 11 reviewed items:

Nirvana = 6
Heavenly = 5
Earthbound = 2
Purgatory = 1
Hell = zero

Since 6 out of the 14 items Amy rated were given the top score of Nirvana (nothing else better). That means she ranks nearly half of all the items reviewed as superior.

Additionally, 5 items are rated as Heavenly (impressive), meaning 11 out of the 14 items achieved either a superior (Nirvana) or excellent (Heavenly) ranking. Well, Oakley and Amy are self-professed Fresh & Easy fan Bloggers after all. In case you are asking. But the reviews are thoughtful ones.

Only 2 items received a "so-so" (Earthbound) review. And only 1 out of the 14 items needs improvement (Purgatory), according to Amy's palate and reviews.

Lastly, none of the 14 prepared foods items reviewed were sent to hell, which based on the ratings system suggests any items receiving that rating would likely be sent to the microwave oven with the setting set on high and the timer set for "burn baby burn."

You can read more reviews from Oakley and Amy at the Blog here:

[Fresh & Easy Buzz Note to Readers: Please feel free to offer your comments on these or any other fresh & easy fresh, prepared foods items you have tried.

Did you like them? Were they good (Nirvana or Heavenly), nothing to write home about (Purgatory) or pure gut bombs (Hell). Feel free to offer any comments using the "comments" link below.]

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Special Product Focus: Long Live Newman's Own and its Charitable Mission: Newman's Own on A New Product Introduction Rampage; Next Up Frozen Pizza

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens -- natural and premium foods company Newman's Own is getting in the ready-to-bake frozen pizza business.

The food company founded by and named after actor, race car driver and entrepreneur Paul Newman, who passed away last month, plans to soon introduce four varieties of all-natural, premium, frozen ready-to-bake pizzas called Newman's Own Thin and Crispy frozen pizza.

The all-natural and premium frozen pizza pies come in four varieties: Supreme; Four Cheese; Roasted Garlic and Chicken; and Uncured Pepperoni.

According to Mike Harvard, vice president of marketing for Newman's Own, the all-natural, premium frozen pizza's will be competitively priced with the leading national frozen pizza brands. This has been one of the keys to the fabulous success of the Newman's own brand in fact. While offering a premium-quality product, be it salad dressing, pasta sauce, popcorn or ready-to-drink lemon aid, the food company always made sure to price the brand close to or just slightly higher than other national, mass market brands in the respective categories, even though its products are all-natural and of premium quality.

Asked why frozen pizza's are the newest line extension for Newman's Own, Harvard says: "For 25 years, our consumers have loved our all-natural products that help make delicious meals. So, we figured, why not make it easier and provide the whole meal. Our new pizzas deliver what consumers want --delicious, convenient meal solutions the whole family will love,"

"I guess you could say we've jumped from the salad bowl onto the pizza pan," Harvard adds.

Of course he is referring to the fact the very first category Newman's Own began with 26 years ago was ready-to-pour salad dressings. We see lots of potential synergies between the two product lines, such as salad dressing and frozen pizza FSI coupon cross promotions, in-store tie-ins and the like.

The new frozen pizza line is being launched in stores this month in five test market areas. Those market regions are: New England; Albany, NY; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; and Charlotte, NC. Harvard says Newman's Own has plans to expand to other U.S. markets next year and roll the frozen pizza line out nationally by 2010.

Newman's Own Thin and Crispy pizza retails for a suggested price of $6.49-$6.99 for pizzas that range from 12.3 oz. to 14.7 oz, according to marketing vice president Harvard.

Among the supermarket chains in the U.S. states mentioned above involved in the frozen, premium pizza pie line's introduction this month include: Shaw's supermarkets; Price Chopper; BigY; Hannaford; Demoula's Market Basket; Roche Bros.; Foodmaster; HarrisTeeter; CUB Foods; Piggly Wiggly; Woodman's Markets; Copps; Sentry; Byerly's; Lund's; Kowalski's and a number of others.

That Newman's Own is introducing its new line of frozen pizzas just shortly after the death of Paul Newman is particularly bittersweet because along with popcorn (and pasta and Lemonade), pizza is said to be the award winning actor's other favorite food.

The Newman's Own brand frozen pizza's go from the freezer to the oven, taking only 10-12 minutes to bake, according to the company.

All four of the premium, thin crust frozen pizzas are trans-fat-free. Additionally, The crust is made with flaxseed, all-natural cheeses are used in all the pizzas, the roasted garlic chicken pizzas are made with only all-natural white meat chicken, and the pepperoni on that variety and on the Supreme pizza is uncured. The Supreme Pizza variety contains sausage, uncured pepperoni, green, red, yellow peppers, onions and cheese.

There are no artificial ingredients or colorings in any of the Newman's Own frozen pizzas, according to company marketing chief Mike Harvard.

Newman's Own is on a new product introduction rampage.

The food marketer recently introduced a new line of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, Newman's Own Sweet Enough breakfast cereals. As is the case with the frozen pizza category, the new cereal line is the company's first entry into the shelf-stable ready-to-eat breakfast cereal category.

It's not an accident the food marketer's two newest product lines are both in the ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat segments.

Mike Harvard says a major segment focus of the company's new product development efforts is in the meal solutions sector. These are food products of various types that are ready-to-eat with either zero or only a slight (like adding milk to cereal or baking a frozen pizza) effort needing to be added by consumers. In other words, most of the value has already been created and added by the products' manufacturer.

Prior to introducing the new breakfast cereal line, Newman's Own introduced a new line of shelf-stable marinades named Dress Up Dinner Marinades, along with a new line of salad dressings in sprayer-style bottles called Newman's Own Natural Salad Mists.

These two new lines fit into the meal solutions strategy from the opposite end in that they are convenient, value added products that can be used by consumers to aid in the preparation of and to enhance a meal with very little preparation -- marinading chicken with the marinades and then simply baking or grilling, and spraying the salad dressing misters on a packaged salad mix and simply eating, for example.

Newman's Own was founded on a lark by Paul Newman and his buddy, the writer A.E. Hotchner, in 1982 in the kitchen of Newman's Westport, CT USA home. Newman and Hotcher, who wrote a best selling biography of Ernest Hemingway and the famous memoir King of the Hill about his life growing up in St Louis, Mo. during the Great Depression, along with many other works, made up a batch of Newman's favorite salad dressing -- the company's first commercial product sold at retail stores -- and gave it away to friends and family members for Christmas, creating a label that said "Newman's Own" in part as a tongue-in-cheek joke.

From there as is often said -- the rest is history. The company was launched by the pair with one key proviso -- that all of its profits after expenses would be donated to charity.

Newman and Hotchner followed up the salad dressing line with popcorn, ready-to-drink lemonade and pasta sauce. Today Newman's Own produces and markets 175 different varieties of food products in the U.S. and internationally.

And of course Newman's Own has even produced its own food company offspring, Santa Cruz, CA-based Newman's Own Organics, which was founded by and is run by Paul Newman's daughter, Nell Newman.

Still based in Westport, Conn., the charitable mission of Newman's Own is expressed in its Company motto: "Shameless exploitation in pursuit of the Common Good."

The food company's charitable mission is reflected in the following statement that will appear on every package of Newman's Own products: "The Newman's Own Foundation continues Paul Newman's commitment to donate all after tax net profits from this product and related royalties for educational and charitable purposes," says company marketing chief Mike Harvard.

The statement is being added to every Newman's Own product package to reflect Newman's wishes and plans that the company and its charitable mission live long after his death.

The Newman's Own Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the food company, have given over $250 million to thousands of charities since its founding in 1982. That's impressive. And a wonderful legacy for Paul Newman to leave.

[Fresh & Easy Buzz Editor's Note: 'Special Product Focus' is a new feature of the Blog. Every so often we will write about a branded product line or product we believe has merit to the industry and to our readers. We also will include occassional stories about Fresh & Easy store brand products in our 'Special Product Focus' column.]

Southern California Market Report: Will the Inland Empire Region City of Highland Get A Fresh & Easy Market Of its Own?

Southern California's vast two-county -- Riverside and San Bernardino -- Inland Empire region has been one of the fastest-growing areas in California and in the U.S. over the last decade.

From the Fresh & Easy Buzz Editor's Desk: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has cancelled very few of its store development plans since it started on its rapid grocery store opening blitz in late October, 2007, which has resulted in the grocer having 96 stores opened thus far in Southern California, Nevada's Las Vegas Metro area and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region.

One of the few locations Fresh & Easy did change its plans about was its decision to build a store at Greenspot Road and Boulder Avenue in the Southern California city of Highland, in San Bernardino County.

The Highland Fresh & Easy was to be one of the grocery chain's first stores. But nearly a year ago today, it canceled its plans to open the market at the location in the city in Southern California's Inland Empire region, which is one of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's key market area focuses in Southern California. The retailer's 850,000 square foot distribution center is located in the Inland Empire region in next door Riverside County.

Joe Nelson, a staff writer for the local The Sun newspaper in the Inland Empire, explores whether or not Tesco's Fresh & Easy will eventually open a store in Highland, since the grocery chain has opened stores in numerous neighboring cities all around the town, and plans to open additional stores in those cities.

In fact, he suggests in his report in The Sun Fresh & Easy could be on the verge of dipping its food retailing toe back into Highland, possibly locating a store in a different neighborhood in the Inland Empire region city.

Below is that report from The Sun, which is based in San Bernardino County and serves readers throughout Southern California's Inland Empire region. Note: All of the cities mentioned in the report are in the Inland Empire region.

Highland's hopes for a Fresh & Easy still unanswered
Joe Nelson, Staff Writer

They've opened or are in the process of opening in Yucaipa, Loma Linda, Fontana and Rialto. But when it comes to Highland, the Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market has remained elusive for more than a year.

The grocery canceled its decision to build a store at Greenspot Road and Boulder Avenue about a year ago, and things have remained relatively quiet ever since.

There has, however, been a faint hint that the retailer is now considering building a store on Base Line, east of Palm Avenue, next to the new Bakers restaurant and CVS Pharmacy.

"We talked to them informally. They had a preliminary review, but we have not received a formal application," said John Jaquess, Highland's community development director.

Fresh and Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott would neither confirm nor deny the company's plans to build in the area the city has destined for a future town center.

"It's still in the early stages," Wonnacott said. "Right now I can confirm we're looking in Highland, and we hope to serve neighborhoods there in the near future."

In the last year, development projects in the area of Base Line, between Palm Avenue and the 210 Freeway, have repeatedly popped up on City Council, Planning Commission and Design Review Board agendas.

On Oct. 7, the Design Review Board approved a site plan for a new Dairy Queen on the southwest corner of Base Line and Bonita Drive. The 2,080-square-foot restaurant will include a drive-through and 10 parking spaces. The existing one across from City Hall will be closed when the new one opens, Jaquess said.

When CVS Pharmacy got approval to build on the northwest corner of Base Line and Palm Avenue, demolition of the existing Bakers restaurant, which faced Palm Avenue, was part of the package. The restaurant was rebuilt facing Base Line, east of the new CVS. Both recently opened.

The intersection of Base Line and Palm is one of the busiest in the city, making it a prime spot for new development and a town center. City Hall is on Base Line just west of Palm Avenue, and a new sheriff's station will be built on Base Line further to the west, at the corner of Olive Tree Lane.

When Fresh and Easy finally makes its move in Highland is unknown.

Wonnacott would not say why the company decided not to build on Greenspot Road in an area the city has dubbed the Golden Triangle, which will be a shopping, dining and entertainment hub. A Lowe's, Staples, and Del Taco and Subway restaurants are all set to open soon just east of the 210 Freeway.

Fresh and Easy opened its 96th store Thursday in Las Vegas. Last week, one opened on Base Line and Citrus Avenue in Fontana, Wonnacott said.

A store in Loma Linda is getting ready to open, and one opened in Yucaipa last month. Two stores are planned for Rialto, Wonnacott said.

The company also plans to open stores in Calimesa and Beaumont.

'The Promotional Pundit:' Old September 25, 2008 Online Coupon Post Removed From the Fresh & Easy Company Marketing Blog; See My Past Columns

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market director of marketing Simon Uwins or one of the grocery chain's marketing staffers has removed the September 25, 2008 post about the grocer's first online coupon from the company marketing Blog as I suggested in my recent columns should be done.

Read my past columns on the topic at the links below to learn what I wrote about the issue:

>October 10, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit': Keeping the Marketing and Promotional Eye On the Ball; Fixing A Promotional Fiasco Fresh & Easy Isn't Even Aware Of

>October12, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit:' More On the Online Coupon Fiasco: Tesco Fresh & Easy's Marketing Department to Launch A New Online Coupon Early Next Week

>October 13, 2008: 'The Promotional Pundit': Tesco Fresh & Easy Launches New $6-off Online Coupon Today; Post on Corp. Marketing Blog Remains -- Adding Insult to Injury

The old, September 25 post remained on the Fresh & Easy corporate marketing Blog until at least late last week.

The Promotional Pundit was alerted by a regular reader of the column yesterday that it had been removed.

It's good to see somebody at Fresh & Easy agreed with the Promotional Pundit and a number of Fresh & Easy Buzz readers who emailed me about the issue. Even more so, it's good the retailer is willing to self-correct.

Their were a number of readers of the Fresh & Easy marketing Blog who made comments on the Blog's September 25 post about being disappointed about not being able to get their online coupon when they clicked the link on the post, as you can read about and view in my previous columns linked above. When the readers/consumers clicked the link to go to the page where the coupon was supposed to be located, they were greeted with a message telling them the coupon had expired -- but suggesting they should go to their nearest Fresh & Easy market for great in-store low prices. Of course, since they were invited to obtain a coupon so they could enjoy "lower" prices, that wasn't a very pleasing solution to them.

As I wrote about in this October 13 column, "'The Promotional Pundit': Tesco Fresh & Easy Launches New $6-off Online Coupon Today; Post on Corp. Marketing Blog Remains -- Adding Insult to Injury," Fresh & Easy issued a new online coupon on October 13. That online coupon is being promoted on the homepage of the Web site. It isn't being promoted at all at present on Mr. Uwins' Fresh & Easy company marketing Blog. No new post regarding the new coupon replaced the September 25 post which I suggested needed to be removed -- and now has been removed from the Fresh & Easy company marketing Blog.

Even though the seven readers of the Fresh & Easy marketing Blog won't get an answer from Mr. Uwins or anybody else at Fresh & Easy to their comments about not being able to obtain their online coupon, at least by removing the post no further damage will be done from a marketing, branding and customer relations standpoint to Fresh & Easy.

That's the best thing a marketer can do in such a situation, which is why the Promotional Pundit suggested it needed to be done.

The comments from the seven consumers should have each been answered on the September 25 Blog post first though, telling each one about the new $6-off purchases of $30 or more online coupon, and providing the link to it on the homepage of the Web site. That would have been good customer service.

If a retailer uses a Blog as a marketing tool, it automatically becomes an interactive customer service tool as well. As a result, it is incumbent on the retailer to them answer readers comments -- positive or negative -- just like that retailer expects store-level employees to respond to questions from customers in-store. The Blog is in many ways merely an electronic extension of a physical storefront after all.

However, since the September 25 post is now gone (a positive event), it's a moot point in terms of responding to the comments from the readers/consumers. At least by removing the old post Fresh & Easy's marketing department is correcting a mistake, which I congratulate them for doing.

The first rule of marketing is: "But first, do no harm." An appendix to that rule is: "If you cause harm, immediately prevent further harm."

Fresh & Easy was slow on the draw in preventing further reputational harm by talking so long to delete the September 25 post. But at least they have now done so. That's a positive thing in terms of preventing additional marketing, branding and customer relations harm to the company.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Free-For-All: News and Views About Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and Tesco PLC

Good, cheap canvas shopping bags

On Thursday, October 17, Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market added an inexpensive 99-cent reusable canvas shopping bag to the selection of reusable shopping totes it offers for sale in its stores.

The new 99-cent reusable canvas bag (pictured at left) is made with 100% unbleached cotton, carries a simple design of the Fresh & Easy logo, and can hold up to 100 pounds, according to Tesco Fresh & Easy marketing director Simon Uwins.

Fresh & Easy stores already sell what the retailer calls a "bag for life" which they will replace for free if it is ever torn or damaged. The bag is made out of a plastic-like synthetic material and sells for just 20-cents each.

Uwins says the the grocery chain plans to introduce two new reusable carrier bags by the end of the year. One is a reusable canvas wine carrier bag that holds up to 7 bottles. It will sell for $1.99 and should be available in the stores in mid-November, he says. The second reusable bag, a reusable canvas shopping tote made out of organic material, will sell for $2.99 and will be offered in the stores in mid-December, according to Uwins.

We think offering the inexpensive 99-cent canvas shopping bag is a good idea. A number of other retailers like the Rite Aid drug store chain and the Raley's supermarket chain in Northern California have been offering 99-cent or dollar canvas bags for sometime now. Wal-Mart also just recently introduced a one dollar reusable canvas-style bag.

Raley's even distributed thousands of its 99-cent bags for free in its 129 stores when it introduced the inexpensive reusable totes last year.

The attractive yet inexpensive bags offer shoppers a low-priced way to bring their own bags (BYOB) to the store and help cut down on the waste from single-use plastic carrier bags and paper grocery sacks. In particular is reducing the volume of single-use plastic carrier bags given out at supermarkets and other retail stores, since unlike paper bags their isn't a comprehensive recycling structure such as curbside recycling in place in the U.S.

Introducing the 99-cent canvas bags is even more important for Tesco's Fresh & Easy to do since the retailer only offers free single-use plastic carrier bags in it stores and not the paper grocery sack option as nearly 100% of supermarkets in the U.S. do.

The more inexpensive reusable bag options consumers are given, the fewer excuses they have to not bring their own bags to the grocery store.

Let the sunshine in

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market says the massive solar panel array on the roof of its huge 850,000 square foot distribution center in Riverside, (Southern) California is currently producing about 75% of the center's energy needs.

Achieving a 75% solar energy production rate is very impressive, as well as being among the highest of any distribution center we are aware of in the United States.

In fact, very few supermarket companies or wholesale grocers even have solar systems and rooftop solar panel arrays on their facilities. Very few retail distribution facilities of any format do in the U.S. actually.

Wal-Mart and the department store chain Macy's are two large retailers that are aggressively putting solar power systems on their numerous distribution centers. Both retailers have already put solar systems and panels on the roofs of or next to a number of their respective distribution centers in California and Hawaii, with more installations planned.

The solar installations at the Wal-Mart and Macy's distribution centers thus far provide about 30-50% of the total energy use of the respective facilities. Therefore, that the solar power system at the Fresh & Easy distribution center in Riverside County is providing 75% of the facilities energy needs is a considerable achievement compared to what others are currently doing.

The solar panels at the Fresh & Easy distribution center cover 500,000 square feet, which is about the size of five football fields.

The company says the installation cost $13 million.

Since March, the solar panels have provided over 2,100 MWh of energy -- enough energy to power over 300 typical homes, 4200 televisions or 10,000 light bulbs for a year, Tesco's Fresh & Easy says.

Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has a live feed on its Web site where you can view the output (how much energy is coming from the solar panels) of the solar power system at the Riverside County distribution center in real time. Just click the link to go to that page on the Web site:

Fresh & Easy new store news

Fontana, Southern California: Tesco opened a new Fresh & Easy store on October 9 in the Southern California city of Fontana. Along with the local residents who attended the groand opening there was a group of protesters there from the United Food & Commercial Workers union. The local paper, the Fontana Herald News, covered the grand opening. You can read the report here.

Temecula, Southern California: The planning commission in this Southern California city heard an application on Wednesday night from Tesco's Fresh & Easy, which is proposing to build its second store at a site in the city. The first Fresh & Easy store in Temecula hasn't opened yet but is expected to do so soon.

The second Temecula Fresh & Easy store would be built on the south side of Rancho California Road, west of Cosmic Drive in the city, according to the planning commission.

The commission in March approved plans for a Fresh & Easy Market at Margarita and De Portola roads. Matt Peters, a planner with the city, said that project is under construction and the application for the second project was received in May.

The plan for the new Fresh & Easy market heard at the commission's hearing on Wednesday night calls for locating the store on a 2.47 acre parcel in the city, adjacent to two other approved projects: a Rite-Aid Pharmacy and a 160-unit apartment complex.

An issue at the hearing was Tesco's application for a beer and wine permit for the store. The planning commission said it had no objection to that because it doesn't feel their is an over concentration of stores that sell liquor, beer and wine in the neighborhood. The proposed Rite Aid store has applied with the state of California for both a spirits/hard liquor license and a beer and wine permit for the store next to the proposed Fresh & Easy unit in Temecula.

Temecula is in Riverside County in Southern California which is where Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's 850,000 square foot distribution center is located.

One year (store) birthdays

The very first batch of Tesco's Fresh & Easy small-format, convenience-oriented grocery and fresh foods stores officially opened in November, 2007. We say "officially" because the first Fresh & Easy market located in Hemet in Southern California actually opened about two weeks early in late October. In fact, it will have been open one year next week.

November is just a couple weeks away, which means one year birthdays for those first Fresh & Easy stores.

One of those stores, the Fresh & Easy at Foothill and Second Street in the Southern California city of Arcadia is planning a one year anniversary party on November 12.

According to store manager Tammy Goddard, the Arcadia Fresh & Easy will be celebrating in a variety of ways at the store on November 12. She says customers and others are invited to the birthday party at which the store "will have some special promotions, sample a few customer favorites, and give away reusable canvas bags on the first day (while supplies last) as part of its one year anniversary."

[Since Fresh & Easy Buzz has been suggesting since early this year that Fresh & Easy hold free reusable bag giveaway days since it only offers only free plastic bags in its stores and not the paper option, we're pleased a reusable bag giveaway -- the first we've heard about -- is being included in the one year birthday party at the Foothill & 2nd Arcadia store.]

"We are so grateful to our customers for a fantastic first year. We are starting to change the way people shop," says Fresh & Easy Arcadia store manager Tammy Goddard. "We couldn't have accomplished so much in one year without everyone's support and we look forward to being a part of the neighborhood for many years to come.”

The store also will make a $1,000 donation to a local charity in celebration of being open in the city for one year, she says. When the store opened last year it made a $1,000 donation to a local non-profit group, the Foothill Unity Center. Store manager Goodard says residents of Arcadia can submit the name of a local charity group for consideration of the awarding of the $1,000 donation at They have until October 24 to do so.

Tesco PLC News & Views

Cook it like Beckham: United Kingdom-based Tesco, which is the world's third-largest retailer, the leading retailer in the UK, and owns and operates Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in the U.S., is teaming up with famous British football (soccer for the yanks) star David Beckham to introduce a line of frozen, prepared foods Beckham has created in partnership with a company called G03. The frozen foods line will be launched in Tesco stores in the UK.

you can read about the development here: Beckham launches food range. Here: NOSH ’N’ BECKS. And here: How David Beckham might look as Captain Birds Eye. You might also enjoy the UK Web site's take on David Beckham's entry into the food business. Click here: DAVID BECKHAM: VICTORIA’S GREAT WITH MINCEMEAT.

Of course Beckham and his famous wife Victoria (Posh Spice) Beckham now live in sunny California where Mr. Beckham received a multi-million dollar contract to play U.S. professional soccer. The Beckhams live in Southern California's Beverly Hills/Brentwood area.

The big question is: Since Fresh & Easy is owned by Tesco, and Tesco is launching Beckham's frozen, prepared meals range in the UK, and Beckham like Tesco is a product of the UK with a U.S. outpost (Beckham still has a home in Britain, Fresh & Easy is Tesco's U.S. outpost), will Tesco's Fresh & Easy USA sell David Beckham's prepared meals in its stores?

Since half of the Fresh & Easy stores are in Southern California where the Beckhams live and receive lots of media attention, it might not be a bad idea to sell a few of the froaen meal items in the region's Fresh & Easy stores. Of course, we would make a condition of doing so that the Spice Girls would have to do in-store samplings.

Additionally, Fresh & Easy Buzz's Promotional Pundit, who tipped us off to the story, says he thinks a Fresh & Easy store appearance or two or three by David Beckham would likely generate lots of foot traffic for those stores, especially of the high heeled variety.

Tesco cuts petrol costs...finally: In the UK Tesco sells petrol (gasoline) just as many supermarket chains in the U.S. do. Britain's Prime Minister (PM) Gordon Brown, who under former PM Tony Blair was the nation's Treasury Minister among other things, has grabbed the UK's financial crisis by the horns and among other actions is calling on the country's businesses to help out. It's being said by numerous observers that the UK financial crisis and the rapid and comprehensive way Brown is responding to it could ironically save Brown's leadership, which prior to the crisis was falling by the wayside.

One of the things PM Brown has done is to aggressively call on the UK's petrol retailers to cut the price of gasoline as a way to help the economy and Britain's cash-strapped citizens. Many have been doing just that, including Tesco. Tesco originally was reluctant to cut prices as low as Brown has been calling for. But the giant retailer now has. But after all of its competitors already did so. You can read about it here: Tesco cut petrol to below £1.

Wal-Mart-owned Asda, along with Sainsbury's and Morrisons, in the UK cut its petrol prices in line with what PM Brown has been asking some time ago. Asda is the number two chain in the UK after Tesco, followed by Sainsbury's and Morrisons. However, Tesco was a holdout -- until now. On October 16 Brown threatened an inquiry unless all of the nation's petrol-sellers lower prices in the wake of the tumbling price of oil: Cut your petrol prices or face an inquiry, Brown tells fuel giants.

The UK press has been tough on Tesco for being a laggard rather than a leader in this effort. For example, read the piece from The Sun here: Greedy fuels. Also from This is Money UK: Tesco drops fuel price. Both those pieces were published shortly before Tesco announced it would join all of the other retailers in lowering the price of petrol. Also read about the fury over the high fuel prices in this piece: Forecourt fury as petrol prices stay high.

Lower food prices too: UK PM Brown also is after the nation's food and grocery chains to lower their prices on food and grocery items. We told you he was going full bore in his efforts. Brown also believes the current oil slump with slash food costs in the UK. And yesterday he promised Britain's struggling families those prices would come tumbling down. Read about it here: Brown: Oil slump will slash food bills.

UK basic food prices up: Brown's calls for reduced food prices in the nation can't come too soon for some. The most recent data shows the prices on basic food and grocery items in the UK have increased in the current quarter by 14pc. Read more here: Basic food prices 'up by 14pc'.

Tesco is by far the leading seller of food and groceries in the UK with a 31% share of the market. Number two Asda follows with 17%. Number three Sainsbury's has a share of about 15% and number four Morrisons about 12%.

Since Tesco has a greater market share than the number two and three UK chains combined, it tends to come under the most intense scrutiny by the government and media in terms of the price of basic food products in the nation. Look for that scrutiny to intensify as the economy gets worse, especially if food price inflation continues at current levels.

Sister act at Tesco: Tesco Workers 'Similarity'. When Debbie Day and Marilyn Morris shared a coffee and a chat during their working day at a Tesco store in the UK, they remarked on how much they looked like each other. Here's why: Tesco workpals for 30 years were lost sisters. Read more: Friends find out they are sisters. BBC News: Friends discover they are sisters.