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    Tesco is Off and Running

    A look inside the first six Fresh & Easy stores officially opened in Southern California.

    By Renee Covino

    The first of the long-awaited "fresh and easy" gates have swung open in Southern California. After much industry buzz and anticipation, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market officially welcomed customers for the first time Thursday, opening six stores in some well-studied niche markets of Los Angeles and Orange County. (There was a soft opening in one of the locations last week).

    CSNews Online was there to view the large crowds of customers and competitors alike on opening day. They packed the parking lots, which had to be manned by traffic controllers. All were curious to see if Fresh & Easy would be true to its name -- bringing fresh, easy and affordable meal choices to shoppers in a streamlined, "neighborhood market" format.

    To see images from one of the Fresh & Easy stores, click the links below:

    The Kitchen Table

    Self-Checkout Counters

    This idea, which some analysts have predicted will "revolutionize" American retailing, comes from the United Kingdom's largest (and the third-largest international) retailer, Tesco plc, which maintains it has spent years gathering U.S. consumer input to uniquely tailor the Fresh & Easy stores to the American market.

    "Based on extensive research, we've built a store from the ground up for the American consumer," said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy CEO.

    With 10,000 square feet of selling space and about 3,500 SKUs, the stores are "obviously a lot smaller than the standard supermarket," reported Simon Uwins, chief marketing officer. He said about half of the selections are Fresh & Easy private-label brands. All around the store, private-label products are touted as containing no artificial colors or flavors, and no added trans fats; they only use preservatives when "absolutely necessary."

    One of the store's proprietary features is its "fresh from the kitchen" prepared foods, packaged as complete cooked meals, such as chicken fajitas and blue-cheese burgers. "We've built a state-of-the-art kitchen facility that enables us to produce high-quality, fresh, prepared foods just as you would make it in your own kitchen -- it's very simple," Uwins said.

    Other highlights of the stores include:

    -- Fresh & Easy eggs are cage-free

    -- Fresh & Easy meat is hormone-free

    -- Produce is packed, date-coded and delivered daily

    -- Local sourcing is used wherever possible

    -- Plastic crates and cardboard shippers are used and continually recycled to keep stocking simple

    Regardless of the particular neighborhood, "all of the stores now opened are identical in that they have the same range of products and they also have the same prices," said Uwins. Whether that will stay the same, "we'll have to find out as we go through," he stated.

    The six stores currently operating are just the tip of the Tesco iceberg in the U.S. Fresh & Easy has announced 122 locations to date, with 30 scheduled to open by year's end and 50 scheduled to open by the end of February 2008 -- in Southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The company plans to have 200 stores operating by the end of next year. Tesco is reportedly investing $2 billion over five years in its U.S. debut.

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