Fresh & Easy 'Disappointed' in Self-Checkout Law

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Days after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that will ban alcohol sales at self-checkout come Jan. 1, 2012, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market [4] — the only retailer to operate a self-serve-only checkout model in the state — is considering how best to comply. All but two of its 133 California locations sell beer and wine.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the governor’s decision and that politics prevailed over good judgment,” Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott told SN. “Despite the intentions of the bill and its backers at the UFCW it’s not going to change our efforts to open any new stores.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union pushed for the law, saying it would prevent purchases by minors and those who were already intoxicated. But opponents contend it was designed to single out nonunion Fresh & Easy. “It’s aimed directly at Fresh & Easy because [the UFCW] is looking to shut it down,” said Ron Fong, president and chief executive officer of the California Grocers Association, Sacramento.

As it stands, self-checkouts in the state are designed to lock up when beer, wine or liquor is scanned for purchase by a shopper. While all stores require employee intervention, some allow for remote overrides from a nearby station. California law prohibits the sale of alcohol to minors, but does not mandate ID verification.

In the past, Fresh & Easy allowed for remote overrides but today it requires face-to-face interaction. Employees are trained to check for signs of intoxication. Age verification is also mandatory for anyone appearing younger than 40. Shoppers who meet the requirements are permitted to proceed, but only after the employee scans a unique barcode.

Fresh & Easy also deters attempts by minors to “trick” the self-service system. One strategy involves scanning a 12-pack of soda and replacing it on the belt with an equal-weight beverage like a 12-pack of beer. But a safeguard that applies to products that are the same size and weight as the alcoholic beverages it sells prevents such attempts.

“When the item is scanned the same protections pop into place so an override has to occur at the checkstand,” Wonnacott noted.

Under the new law, Fresh & Easy will have to install at least one full-service checkout per store in order to continue selling alcohol.