The Bumpy History of Fresh and Easy

By Phineas Upham

Fresh & Easy began in 2006 with an announcement that Tesco was planning on moving operations into the United States. Their plan was to open a chain of “small-format” grocery stores all across the Western United States (focusing specifically on Nevada and California).

Most Fresh & Easy markets are relatively small, measuring around 1,400 square feet in size or about one-third the size of the average American supermarket.

The company sells its own branded goods, but it also takes the European approach to vegetables and sells the packaged as opposed to loose. It also has fresh baked goods, and buys and sells its own meat from a frozen case. Stores were designed to run with the fewest possible employees, so most things normally served in a supermarket are done self-service. Coffee is a good example.

The initial launch wasn’t going over so well. Within its first three years of operation, the chain had to shut down 13 stores because of shrinking populations in the areas where it had chosen to set up. Losses would be reported throughout most of the company’s lifespan. The Strategic Review reported 2012 would likely be a loss year, and the Los Angeles times concluded the following year that the company was facing $1 billion in cumulative losses. It anticipated that the company might see a turnaround by 2014, but there was no way to be certain.

Fresh & Easy was eventually sold to Yucaipa Companies LLC in 2013, a sign that Tesco was no longer willing to hang onto the liabilities associated with the brand. Fresh & Easy stores still exist throughout the West coast, and the chain shows little sign of closure.

Phineas Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phineas Upham website or Facebook page.