When the UK food retailer Tesco announced in 2006 it was opening small food stores in the western United States, many wondered whether that was a wise strategy—especially in Southern California, where Trader Joe’s boasts its origins. Four years later, the Fresh & Easy chain is performing well, with over 150 stores in Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. Fresh & Easy is creeping up to Northern California through the Central Valley—as many as 500 new stores may open up in the next few years.
Explaining Fresh & Easy’s success is simple: the company opened up stores in underserved areas like Hollywood and downtown Fresno. Its prices are competitive, and its product offering appeals to that DINK (double income no kids) demographic.
The stores do their best at minimizing their environmental impact: solar panels provide power for its Riverside distribution center; LED lighting is the norm in its stores’ display cases and signage; employees reuse or recycle display products; and a few locations even set aside reserved parking for hybrid vehicles.
Now the company introduced another initiative: Fresh & Easy is working with local farms to place their produce in markets, where they are labeled so customers know exactly where the products originate.
The “Farm to Store in 24” Program showcases fresh-picked produce that Fresh & Easy sourced from vetted growers. It’s a step that many grocery chains have adopted, though often consumers are not told much beyond the fact that those summer fruits or vegetables are “local.” Fresh & Easy includes a label noting the farm that has grown the produce, whether they are Coachella Valley grapes, Watsonville strawberries, or San Diego County avocados. Right now the program is in a pilot phase; based on its success, the initiative will continue into the fall.
Not everyone will be impressed—like its competitor, Trader Joe’s, much of the produce at Fresh & Easy is entombed in plastic. But as more consumers actually are conscious of where their food originates, Fresh & Easy has made a smart move: Farm to store in 24 demonstrates that produce does not have to languish in a warehouse for months AND that grocery stores can create economic opportunities for local farmers. The move also addresses the reality that a visit to a farmers market is not always possible when you work a 9 to 5. For many consumers, produce from a Fresh & Easy may be the next best thing. And for Fresh & Easy’s California stores to have 65% of its produce from within the state is fairly impressive when comparing it to other chains.