Sunday, May 23, 2010

Director of Grocery Sean McCurley Leaving Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to Return to Tesco in the UK

Breaking Buzz

Corporate director of grocery buying and merchandising Sean McCurley is leaving Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to return to Tesco's global headquarters in Cheshunt, United Kingdom, where he worked prior to joining the U.S. fresh food and grocery chain as director of fresh foods, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned. Mr. McCurley was a member of the original group of Tesco executives and others who started up Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Spring 2006.

According to our sources, McCurley is set to leave Fresh & Easy's El Segundo, California headquarters to return to work at Tesco in the UK as early as the end of this month, but no later than June 12.

We're told Sean McCurley is leaving Fresh & Easy on good terms with Tesco.

His specific new position at Tesco in the UK isn't clear. But it will be in the commercial (buying and merchandising) area.

McCurley was Fresh & Easy's director of fresh foods until August 2008, when he became director of grocery, replacing Charlotte Maxwell, who left Fresh & Easy and returned to the UK that month. [See - August 17, 2008: Special Report: Tesco Fresh & Easy's Director of Grocery Returning to the UK; Grocery Chain Reorganizing its Corporate Buying Department] [August 22, 2008: Special Report: Today Last Day For Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Director of Grocery Charlotte Maxwell; Moving Back to Tesco in the UK]

Charlotte Maxwell left the employment of Tesco not long after. She moved to Australia in the spring of 2009, joining a group of British supermarket industry veterans who took over management of Australia's Coles supermarket chain. [See - December 25, 2009: It's 'British Invasion: The Sequel Down Under' For Former Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Director of Grocery Charlotte Maxwell.

Sean McCurley has held the corporate director of grocery position at Fresh & Easy since Ms. Maxwell's departure in August 2008.

In December of 2009 Jim Jensen, the then director of fresh foods at Fresh & Easy, who was promoted to that position from a category manager slot in August 2008 to replace McCurley, left Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to accept a key position at Walgreens drug in its start up fresh-prepared foods program, as we were the first publication to report. [See - January 6, 2009: Breaking Buzz: Corporate Director of Fresh Foods Jim Jensen Leaves Tesco's Fresh & Easy] [January 15, 2010: Just-Exited Tesco Fresh & Easy Fresh Foods Director Jim Jensen to Head New Fresh Foods Initiative at Walgreens Drug Chain.] [January 21, 2010: Walgreens Announces Hiring of Former Fresh & Easy Fresh Foods Director Jim Jensen; Confirms Our January 6 Report]

Jensen was recruited to Walgreens by former Tesco Fresh & Easy vice president of retail operation Brian Pugh, who left Fresh & Easy in the summer of 2008. Pugh joined Walgreens, where he's currently vice president of merchandising, in 2009.

Jim Jensen's vacated director of fresh foods position was recently filled by Tim Lee, who came to Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market from Tesco's corporate headquarters in the UK. Tim Lee was a corporate director of produce group procurement at Tesco in the UK prior to leaving to join Fresh & Easy as director of fresh foods.

Lee and another Tesco produce category procurement director, Alex Dower, launched Tesco's global fresh produce sourcing buying and supply chain initiative in about mid-2009. The initiative focuses on direct procurement of fresh produce for Tesco stores in the United Kingdom and continental Europe. Lee's responsibilities included setting up satellite offices in growing and sourcing regions around the world and staffing the offices with technical specialists and produce buying teams.

Dower left Tesco last year to join the London-based fresh-prepared foods-maker and retailer Pret A Manger, which in addition to having over 100 shops in the UK and eight in Hong Kong, has over 20 stores in New York City, one in Washington D.C. (soon to be two), and is opening its first ready-to-eat, grab-and-go fresh foods shop in the Chicago area in August of this year.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market divides its corporate buying and merchandising function into two departments - grocery and fresh foods. Internally it uses the British industry terms, which are "ambient" for grocery and "fresh" for fresh foods. Fresh foods at Fresh & Easy consists of produce, meats-seafood, dairy-deli and fresh-prepared foods. Everything that's ambient - dry grocery, non-foods and the like - is under the grocery department.

Sean McCurley's departure affords Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market the opportunity to hire a new corporate director of grocery buying and merchandising who has a strong background in U.S. food and grocery retailing in general and extensive experience (mixed with talent of course) in the Western U.S., particularly in California. Fresh & Easy's chief commercial officer (the British industry term they use for buying and merchandising) John Burry is from Tesco in the UK, as is recent arrival, director of fresh foods Tim Lee.

It will be interesting to see if Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason, who's also a Tesco plc corporate director, takes the above approach or if Tesco replaces Sean McCurley with someone from the UK, as in the case of Tim Lee replacing Jim Jensen. Jensen is an American who never worked for Tesco prior to being hired by Tesco's Fresh & Easy.

Tesco currently has 159 of its small-format (10,000 -to- 13,000 square-foot) Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market fresh food and grocery stores open and operating in California (Southern and the Central Valley areas of Bakersfield and Fresno), Metropolitan Las Vegas Nevada and Metro Phoenix, Arizona. In a November 27, 2007 presentation made in Southern California by CEO Tim Mason and his senior management team, Tony Eggs, Fresh & Easy's chief real estate officer, said there would be about 200 stores open and operating by February 2009. The grocer is about 60 stores shy of 200 units 15 months beyond February 2009, for those keeping count.

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