Much like the blustery March winds that blew me through the front doors of the California Museum last night for the Fresh & Easy Market launch party, it seems like Fresh & Easy has blown into town at full speed. I'll be honest I wasn't too excited about going to a launch for a supermarket especially when my allergies were going crazy due to the impromptu Sacramento windstorm we had all day; however,  Mr. S. had expressed an interest in knowing more about Fresh & Easy since one was going in not too far from his casa and as a working dad he's always on the looking out for sources that offer healthy meals with minimal prep. So off we went and I'm glad we did. The night turned out to be quite informative.

Venturing over the pond, Fresh and Easy (a subsidiary of UK-based supermarket chain, Tesco) is looking to settle into Sacramento with the initial opening of five neighborhood markets in the month of March. Yep, we'll be seeing a lot of their green signs pretty soon in the City of Trees. At the launch event, F&E's Chief Customer Officer, John Burry, explained the reasoning behind Fresh and Easy choosing Sacramento as its newest location for expansion as being- "it's a city that loves food." Hmmm...ok. Well, they don't plan to compete with our beloved farmers' markets but do hope to provide another option to the Raley's, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's chains by providing a hybrid of the three. The company's main focus supposedly will be on nutritional, fresh meals that are affordable and taste good for the busy individual/family. They plan to deliver these pre-prepped ingredients and prepared meals by utilizing a manufacturing campus in California which will afford them quality control and quick delivery. In their house brand F&E products they promise that they won't use artificial colors or flavors, added trans fats, or high fructose corn syrup.
Check-in at the launch.
Also there was a photo booth you could go play in.

Anyhow, Mr.S. and I had an ok time at the the event. I got to try a few of their appetizers- the prosciutto wrapped shrimp, some pear bruschetta and the ahi poke. (I would have snapped some photos but there weren't many apps left on the platters by the time the servers got over to our side of the room and I knew better than to bother to snap pics of platters of crudites and dip, if you've seen one- you've seen them all...sorry, readers.) The apps were pretty good but I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the wines and champagnes they served were (Trader Joe's you may have some competition in the affordable wines department!) There were a lot of business-y muckety-mucks there talking shop (I'll admit, we tucked ourselves away at a corner table and people watched) but their PR rep was quite nice, answered my endless questions (allergy medicine + wine makes me a bit chatty) and gave me the heads up that the F&E's tikka masala sauce is a fav of hers. I also found out these tidbits of interest:
  • For the last 4 years Fresh and Easy has been rapidly opening stores in CA, NV and AZ at the equivalent of about a store a week. That's a lot of jobs, folks!
  • Most of the seafood for the Sacramento stores will be from Santa Monica Seafood
  • 60% of their produce is grown in California
  • Although they primarily sell their house brand products, they will be selling some name brand products as well
  • They have do-it-yourself checkstands where you scan and bag your own groceries (to keep their costs down) but have staff to assist you should problems arise
  • Much like TJ's, some of their products are seasonal/limited so things will rotate through (holiday items, specialty food, etc)-- for example : Sparkling Pumpkin Spiced Apple Cider...mmm, can't wait!
But you can't judge a store on what a bunch of suits tell you, right? Right! Even if they are suits with 007-like British accents. So since I needed to pick up a few things for dinner anyway (and I wanted to try that tikka masala sauce the PR rep recommended), I decided to stop in today at the newly opened Fresh & Easy on Watt and El Camino, over by Country Club Lanes. The store itself was clean, bright, organized...and much smaller inside than I thought it was going to be. I did like that parking wasn't a hassle though...nix that---I LOVED that parking wasn't a hassle. The majority of the products were the F&E house brand. I did see some interesting items like a lime cilantro hummus, iced black tea and a tasty looking fresh baked challah bread.  Also, in the front of the store were two endcaps with meal sections for lunch (a choice of salad/sushi/or sandwich paired with a snack & drink for $6) and dinner (meal ingredients displayed so you can grab everything you need to make the dinner). They also had a designated gluten-free section and I noted that in their baking aisle they carried Bob's Red Mill line (nice!). There were a few things that turned me off at Fresh and Easy though : 1) when I walked in it reminded me of a cross between a grocery store and a convenience store, it was an odd vibe that I just couldn't seem to shake 2) the produce section is super small, the selection was pretty forlorn looking and everything was pre-packaged in plastic, which I personally don't care for 3) there was no deli, meat/seafood or bakery counter 4) the self-checkout wasn't too bad when I was there, but I could see it being a nightmare during rush hour if you were stuck behind a non-tech savvy blue-haired granny or DB yakking it up on his cell while slinging his groceries.

 Dinner Meal endcap at the front of the store

Overall, I think Fresh and Easy will fair well in the areas that are in need of a grocery store but for those areas that are already saturated with Trader Joes, Bel-Airs, etc., I'm not too sure they'll be able to lure away their competitors' demographic. It's a question of- what are they bringing to the table that makes them more desirable? There's a much more limited selection in their store than say, Safeway or Raley's, they've taken way the personalization of dealing with friendly associates at checkstands that you get at Nugget or Trader Joe's and their prices aren't substantially cheaper like at places such as Target or Winco. So why should I shop there on a regular basis? I for one will be curious to see how Fresh & Easy fares in Sacramento in 2012 with it's 5 store roll out. Like their CCO said, Sacramento, "[is] a city that loves food," and we do; however, we're also a city that's quite discriminating of the quality of what we eat as well as how it impacts our wallet and our environment. It'll be interesting to see how Fresh and Easy responds to that and how it acclimates its practices.
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8 Responses
  1. sporkgasm Says:

    I may go just to check out that hummus. I got an avocado cilantro hummus at a farmer's market in the north area recently and I loved it. The rest of the stuff sounds pretty meh to me. Packaged foods and plastic wrapped thanks.

  2. The checkout is great during off peak hours. When the average supermarket may have a single lane open, F&E always has every lane open. The store never gets crowded enough thats theres a line.

  3. Jessica Says:

    I felt the same way about the vibe, I would rather have a little more Nugget, a little less 7-11. And really, 3 little apples in a bag for 98 cents? Why not do 6 for $2 and let the poor bag do some good before it may or may not get recycled?
    I know that a crowded opening day isn't the best way to judge a store. What if my first impression of TJs was New Year's Eve? I'll give it some more chances when it calms down. I just wish it were a Sprouts Market!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Jessica, not sure what part of town you're in but there's a Sprouts going in March 14 at 7905 Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Gah, you have to bag your own groceries?! That's one of the reasons we left the UK! ;)

  6. Ally-
    Thanks so much to you and Mr. S for coming out to the event, and even more for stopping by the store to have a look around! You hid your allergy troubles very well, though I'm sorry to hear you weren't feeling totally up to par!

    I look forward to keeping in touch and helping you learn more about what makes f&e so great!

  7. Ally Says:

    Nicole, thanks for taking the time to sit and answer my questions Tuesday night (and I'm glad you didn't notice my itchy, watery allergy eyes...aaah, Sacramento in the springtime!). :)

    Hope your Sacramento roll out is a good one.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    There is a Fresh and Easy and a Trader Joes within a mile of each other in my town. As much as I cannot stand how busy the parking lot is at the TJ's, I go there at least 1 to 2 times a week. The Fresh and Easy - well I went once. Not once a week - just once.
    Very sterile looking - didn't like the packaged produce. Really nothing appealing about it. Sort of blah...

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