I have been an avid Fresh & Easy watcher since its inception and venture to say that I’ve easily been to 50 different units across all of its operating markets.
As a huge admirer of Tesco (the subject of my first IdeaXchange post), I had looked forward to these stores with great anticipation. As did the rest of the industry, either driven by fear, opportunity, skepticism or just curiosity to see what a new vision for a modern food store might be.
The results and losses have been well documented and we don’t need to plow old ground. The company was disposed as Tesco took significant losses as they left the U.S. From a peak of over 200 stores, Yucaipa acquired about 167. It made some immediate changes, such as adding service checkouts, significantly increasing product assortments and adding Wild Oats private label.
Yucaipa recently announced that they will be shutting down an additional 50 stores, most in Southern California. These stores are considered no longer fitting the “modern convenience” model. Fresh & Easy also announced that it will be developing a new, smaller format store that might be between 3,000 to 5,000 square feet. It’s worth noting that a number of Fresh & Easy Express stores are already in the market at around this size.
I revisited one of the Las Vegas stores to check in and look at progress. A number of stores in the Las Vegas area had been remodeled to reflect Yucaipa’s vision as of a few months back:
- The store is notable for its much lower profile. Low gondola heights provide full visibility in store.
- A large center island is the showcase of the store. Here, they are preparing fresh food and drinks and using the island to focus on ready-to-eat foods.
- There is a larger assortment of natural products on display.
- Order online and pick up curbside is now being offered as an extra convenience.
- And, of course, there is now a service checkout option.
The store I visited still had some operational bugs. There was $1 coffee but a poor selection of accompanying breakfast items to go with it. A large spill took longer than it should have to be cleaned up. And, the store felt overly spacious, perhaps supporting the need for a smaller footprint.
The challenges for Yucaipa remain as the next chapter unfolds. The variance in real estate always made a unified Fresh & Easy strategy difficult. Perhaps the rationalization to 100 or so stores finally “right sizes” the store base. Myriad changes in strategy make it difficult to tell a consistent consumer story. And, in the meantime, the overall market continues to transform. I counted eight relatively new Dollar General Markets in roughly the same trade areas as Fresh & Easy, as one example.
Hopefully, this iteration of Fresh & Easy hits the right note with consumers. I’m not sure how many more opportunities it has left.
What do you think? Will this new iteration of Fresh & Easy finally get it right?