Fresh and Easy leaves me underwhelmed

fresh_and_easy.03.jpgWhile I was in Las Vegas this weekend, I had a chance to see one of the new Fresh & Easy stores, the U.S. entry of European grocer Tesco.  After all I have been hearing about this British invasion, I had high expectations for the store.  However, after my most recent visit, I can see why the chain is off to a slow start here in the good old U.S.A. and could potentially struggle as Tesco expands into new markets.

  1. The assortment leaves a lot to be desired:  I had read that Fresh & Easy would have only 3,000 SKUs and 42% of those would be private label products.  However, those numbers didnt really impact me until I saw it in person.   What you end up having is a glorified convenience store where you have nearly no selection, especially in Health & Beauty.
  2. They seem to have hits and misses when it comes to food:  When I first walked in, I was jazzed by what I saw in the food category.  First, they had a cool flyer/booklet that read more like a recipe book with how to take couple of items and make a killer dish (my mouth watered for the Meatball hogie they showed).  Second, they had a great selection of more, upscale gourment products like cheese, microbrews, and meats.  I’ve spent 20 minutes trying to find a last minute item like prosciutto at Wal-Mart but here you could grab the essentials in less than 5 minutes.  However, for all this good, they missed the boat with food in many ways.  For instance, the produce looked extremely unappealing in plastic wrap and came in crates that looked like the ones offices use for moving.  Second, they seemed to forcing Private Label too hard and missed high end brand items (like fresh fruit smoothies/juices) that could have been really appealing to their customers.  Instead of their own brand of juice, why didnt they get Innocent Drinks to expand to the US with them?  Finally, their bakery was almost non-existent, when I expected it to have some really nice breads, bagels and desserts like you find at Whole Foods.
  3. The store was too simplisitic:  There has been a lot of success in retail lately by going for clean lines and a simplistic type of appearance.  In many ways, I think Apple kicked off the concept with their retail stores, but you also see it at play with IKEA and others.   Fresh & Easy seems to have taken this concept and gone overboard.  The clean lines werent refreshing and energizing….instead they were boring, sterile and depressing.  It made the store just look empty and was the last thing I expected from the brand indentity work I had seen already (logo, storefront, etc).

Overall the store just really seemed to be a miss.  I could maybe see myself stopping there as a Young Professional to grab food on the way home but it would be replacing a trip to a restaurant, not another store.  Most importantly, the store isnt going to become a lovemark to anyone in the way that Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market or Whole Foods has.  It just doesnt have that story telling ability that is so important in retailing where you want to tell everyone you  know about the great place you just shopped.  I just cant see this store generating the buzz needed to really succeed in the tough US Retail Market.

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