Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to Start Accepting WIC Vouchers at Central & Adams Store in South Los Angeles This Month

Breaking News - Plus Analysis & Commentary

The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market store at 1025 East Adams Boulevard (Central & Adams) in south Los Angeles (pictured above) will start accepting WIC Vouchers (Woman, Infant & Children Program) before the end of July, Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned. The start date could come as early as two weeks from today, according to our sources.

Central & Adams Fresh & Easy store employees are set to begin a training program in how to handle the WIC Vouchers - which are distributed by California WIC (and similar agencies in each U.S. state, including Nevada and Arizona, where the other Fresh & Easy stores are located) to low-income mothers and used to buy specific healthy food and beverage items for their children like infant formula, whole milk, whole grain breads and cereals, and fruits and vegetables - starting either late this week or early next week. Once the store's employees complete the brief training program, the south Los Angeles Fresh & Easy market plans to start accepting the paper vouchers, which look similar to paper checks and are handled by grocers at checkout in essentially the same way as they process paper checks.

We first reported in this April 22, 2010 story - Breaking Buzz: Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Accept WIC Vouchers at its East Adams Store in South Los Angeles - that Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market had decided to start accepting WIC Vouchers at the Central & Adams store in south Los Angeles. We've been writing about the topic since 2008.

Since early 2008 Fresh & Easy Buzz has suggested Tesco's Fresh & Easy has been missing the grocery retailing boat - both from an ethical food retailing perspective as well as from a simple bottom line sales standpoint - by not accepting WIC Vouchers in its stores. [For example, read what we said in this December 2008 piece: Tesco's Fresh & Easy, 'Food Deserts' and WIC Vouchers; A 'Year-End' Analysis & Commentary] There are currently 159 Fresh & Easy units, located in Southern and Central (Valley) California, southern Nevada and Metropolitan Pheonix, Arizona.

Our argument regarding Tesco's Fresh & Easy and it's missing the food retailing boat by not accepting WIC Vouchers has been a simple one:

>First, there exists an ethical compact in U.S. food & grocery retailing between grocers (and their trade organizations) and the government in which it's considered good practice for grocers to accept WIC Vouchers, which enable low-income mothers to provide nutritious foods for the children, which they otherwise most likely would be unable to afford. Virtually every major grocery chain and most independents in America accept WIC VOuchers in their stores.

We've also have pointed out that since Tesco promotes the fact it has some stores in "food desert" neighborhoods, which are generally low-income, inner city areas where residents are underserved by markets that offer fresh food and groceries at decent prices (like south Los Angeles and Compton, for example) but doesn't accept WIC Vouchers at those stores, it's essentially offering "half a loaf" in that many of the residents of those neighborhoods, like south Los Angeles, are low-income mothers who use WIC Vouchers to buy needed foods for the children, but can't use their vouchers at the neighborhood Fresh & Easy store. [See - February 23, 2010: Food Deserts & WIC Vouchers: Half A Loaf For the New Fresh & Easy Store Opening Tomorrow in South Los Angeles]

>Second, from a pure business (sales) standpoint, we've argued Fresh & Easy is turning away needed sales, particularly at its stores in low-income areas like south Los Angeles and Compton in Southern California, along with a few others, by not accepting WIC Vouchers. Experienced grocers in the Western U.S. (and elsewhere in the country) know just how much added sales volume accepting WIC Vouchers can bring to a store, particularly those units located in low and lower-income neighborhoods.

Tesco either missed the business (sales) argument of accepting WIC Vouchers completely in its extensive research period prior to launching Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in November 2007 - not to mention up until now - or decided to disregard the potential added sales reality of accepting WIC all together, despite the fact that Fresh & Easy needs every single dollar of added sales it can muster.

We charitably suggest the retailer likely missed it completely in its research because it created a policy for Fresh & Easy from the start not to accept any form of paper payment in the stores, including paper personal and payroll checks, WIC Vouchers and paper manufacturers' cents off coupons, although it does accept its own paper store coupons, the $6 off (purchases of) $25 or more and $10 off $50 vouchers it regularly distributes to consumers.

Tesco also installed point-of sale (POS) checkout systems in its stores that don't accept paper checks, manufacturers' coupons or WIC Vouchers, suggesting it was oblivious to the benefits of accepting WIC - not to mention manufacturers' cents off coupons and even paper checks, all of which it still doesn't take in the stores - from the very start.

In fact, it's this very point-of-sale system which in-part has held up Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market from accepting WIC Vouchers at the Central & Adams store to date, although the system has now been adapted to accept the vouchers, according to store employees.

On May 14, 2010, we reported in this story - Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Not Yet Accepting WIC Vouchers at South L.A. Store; No Start Date Set - that the Central & Adams Fresh & Easy store hadn't yet started taking WIC Vouchers. Store employees told a Fresh & Easy Buzz correspondent "some kinks" were still being worked out of the POS system.

California WIC had a moratorium on new retailers accepting WIC Vouchers up until January 2010. That moratorium was lifted in January, according to Melinda Beer, an official with the agency.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is approved to accept WIC, according to Ms. Beer.

[We're told by our sources that the story linked at the end of this paragraph - and the many past stories on the topic linked at the bottom of this piece - provided an impetus to Fresh & Easy's senior management regarding the decision to accept WIC Vouchers at the South Los Angeles store: February 23, 2010: Food Deserts & WIC Vouchers: Half A Loaf For the New Fresh & Easy Store Opening Tomorrow in South Los Angeles.]

In fact, in April, Laurie True, the director of California WIC, told an audience at the United Fresh Produce Association convention in Las Vegas that she was told Fresh & Easy had worked out its problems with the POS systems and was taking (at that time) WIC Vouchers at a store in Compton. She had that store mixed up with the Central & Adams store in south Los Angeles, a simple mistake. However, as we reported in the May piece linked above, that wasn't the case. And of course, it hasn't been the case until now, according to store employees.

However, based on our reporting, that situation should change in the next two -to- three weeks, when Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market plans to start accepting WIC Vouchers at its store at 1025 East Adams Boulevard in south Los Angeles.

According to our sources, the south Los Angeles store will be the only one of Tesco's current 159 Fresh & Easy stores that will accept the WIC Vouchers for a while. Sort of a test. But if all goes well - and it should since 99% of the grocery stores in California have been accepting WIC Vouchers for as long as the program has existed - its likely Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market will then start accepting the vouchers in some of its other stores, beginning with those in low-income neighborhoods like in Compton.

Were we Fresh & Easy, we wouldn't wait very long to roll out the acceptance of WIC to all 159 stores. Why wait? It's an accepted method of payment to nearly all grocers in the United States. A number of convenience stores even accept WIC, as do a growing number of farmers markets.

In fact, we suspect once Fresh & Easy sees the nice sales boost it gets at the Central & Adams store on WIC-eligible items (and thus an overall store sales boost) like infant formula, whole milk, juice, eggs, cheese, whole grain breads and cereals, peanut butter, beans and legumes, fresh produce and more, it just might (or at least should) want to accept WIC right away at its other stores.

Additionally, it's important to note that WIC isn't just used by mothers who live in low-income neighborhoods. And in the current economy, people might be surprised at how many mothers in middle-income neighborhoods are relying on WIC to help them feed their children.

With average store market basket sales sizes nowhere near where Tesco wants them to be at present, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market would be smart to allow WIC Voucher use at all of its stores as fast as it can.

Further, as we've said in Fresh & Easy Buzz since 2008, not accepting manufacturers' cents off coupons, and to a lessor extent not taking paper personal and payroll checks in the Fresh & Easy stores, are two additional, simple, operational changes the grocer could make that would payoff in the short, medium and long run in terms of added sales - and even more importantly in increasing the customer universe for its stores.

[Readers: Follow the progression of our coverage, via the selected past stories linked below, on the WIC Voucher issue and Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, from when we first suggested the grocer was missing the boat by not accepting the vouchers, to when we started focusing on why Fresh & Easy should accept them at the south Los Angeles store, which opened in February of this year, to the present.]

September 7, 2008: Analysis & Commentary: Should Tesco's Fresh & Easy Put An Asterisk Next to its Motto? Yes; Unless it Corrects Four Operational Omissions.

December 29, 2008: Tesco's Fresh & Easy, 'Food Deserts' and WIC Vouchers; A 'Year-End' Analysis & Commentary

February 10, 2008: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Opens Latest New Store in 'Food Desert' City of Compton, California

July 2008: Tesco's to Open A Fresh & Easy Grocery Market in Low Income, Underserved South Central Los Angeles Neighborhood

March 7, 2009: Analysis & Commentary: The Seven Retail Operations Changes Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Needs to Make to Help it Get On the Success Track

July 11, 2008: 'Food Desert' Neighborhoods and Southern California: More on the Fresh & Easy Store Planned For South Central Los Angeles

July 15, 2008: Fresh Food to Bloom in An Inner-City Food Desert: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Breaks Ground For New Store in Underserved South Los Angeles Neighborhood

February 23, 2010: Food Deserts & WIC Vouchers: Half A Loaf For the New Fresh & Easy Store Opening Tomorrow in South Los Angeles

February 24, 2010: Fresh & Easy Store Opens its Doors in South Los Angeles

April 22, 2010: Breaking Buzz: Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Accept WIC Vouchers at its East Adams Store in South Los Angeles

May 14, 2010: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Not Yet Accepting WIC Vouchers at South L.A. Store; No Start Date Set

July 6, 2008: Former NBA Great Earvin 'Magic' Johnson is Working His Business Magic in Urban, Inner City Neighborhoods; We Offer An Idea For Tesco's Fresh & Easy

May 12, 2008: Food Deserts: Coalition to Create 'Blue Ribbon' Commission, Draft Report to Encourage Grocers to Open Stores in Underserved Los Angeles Neighborhoods

February 13, 2008: Leading Democratic Candidate for President Barack Obama Joins Group in Asking Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Put More Stores in Underserved Neighborhoods

June 3, 2008: Fresh & Easy Buzz Redux: Barack Obama to Tesco's Fresh & Easy in Our February 13 Piece: 'Build More Stores in Underserved Neighborhoods'

September 23, 2008: Food Retailing, Society & Economics: 'Food Deserts' and Public Health

March 20, 2009: Federal Government Spending Bill Increases WIC Voucher Program Dollars by $1.2 Billion; 21 Percent Increase

May 28, 2008: Las Vegas Market Report: A 'Food Desert' Neighborhood to Get A New Grocery Store; But it's Not A Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market

April 27, 2008: New Study Points to Increasing Urban 'Food Deserts' In North America: Locating Stores in 'Food Deserts' A Part of Fresh & Easy's Strategy

March 7, 2008: Former NBA All-Star and Sacramento Native Kevin Johnson is the Driving Force Behind a Fresh & Easy Market in Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood

July 29, 2008: Tesco's Fresh & Easy and San Francisco's Tenderloin Redux: Upcoming Developments Offer First Mover Opportunity For Fresh & Easy or Competitors


ValleyGuy said...

After two and a half years they finally listened to you. LOL. And the CEO made $6 million last year. Wow.

Fresh & Easy should make WIC an option at all the stores in Fresno and Bakersfield ASAP. The Central Valley is one of the top 5 WIC useage areas in the U.S.

I know of a FoodMaxx store in the Fresno area that does about $40,000week alone in just WIC.

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