By: Sharon Byrne
Wednesday at 10:00 AM, a huge crowd of people amassed at 336 N Milpas St. You might be tempted to think iPads were being given away, but it was the opening of the Fresh N Easy store. The crowd was diverse and impressive for that time of the morning.
After greeting everyone out front, the doors were opened as the Franklin Elementary Rockers band launched into a toe-tapper song. Out front was a table with coupons ($5 off a $25 purchase and free reusable bags), a sales flyer, and membership cards to help you save more money.
Inside it was packed. I talked with the store management as I perused some of the deals to be had. A clamshell container of strawberries was $.99, picked 24 hours ago, according to the package. For those on the go, check out the lunch deal of sandwich or salad, snack of individual veggie servings or desert fruit, and a drink for $6.
The hot deal (as evidenced in the checkout line, which stretched all the way around the inside of the store) was pork spare ribs at $1.99 a pound. Shoppers were picking up eggs, veggies, and fresh-baked breads. The smell of the fresh garlic loaves coming out drew a crowd, as people reached for freshly bagged loaves from the baker. A 2 lb bag of nectarines or peaches was $1.49, with fresh tomatoes on the vine running $1.98 or 4. Raw almonds were on sale for $4.99 for 8 oz, as was Soy and Rice Dream brand cartons at $1.99. I picked up a bag of sweet onion cashews for $2.00 – delicious!
They’re going to give quite a bit of competition to area stores on a number of fronts. Fresh N Easy carries their own brands of salad dressings, ketchup and other grocery store staples, but they also have name brands on the shelves, at good prices.
A lot of the same wines as at Trader Joe’s, and they’re looking to get some local wines on the shelf, as Scolari’s used to. Beer runs from commercial American brands like Bud Light to a deal on Samuel Adams ($6.99 for a 6 pack) to single bottles of high-end brews. There are offerings of pulled-pork and similar ready-made items to Trader Joe’s. Starbucks coffee is less than Ralph’s sale price, and Fresh N Easy’s organic coffee is comparable to Trader Joe’s pricing at $6.99 per pound.
Their marketing is upbeat and practical – the flyer shows 2 different meals you can put together for 4 or 8 people. The spare ribs meal comes in at $3.98 per person, and includes grilled veggies and organic baked beans. The Ultimate Cheeseburger meal feeds 8, and comes in at $2 per person, including bacon and all the trimmings.
Their most unique concept, also their niche, is targeting the single urban shopper. They have prepared dinners for one that you just take home, heat and eat. The price-point and quality here is compelling. You can pick up gourmet-style food for one or two people, and spend $5-10 for dinner, vs. $20 to eat a similar meal in a restaurant. I tried the pork chops in cream sauce with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes – excellent!
I saw many Scolari’s patrons, with full carts, so it appears Fresh N Easy has done a good job with their inventory to fill that void. The aisles are wider at 8 ft than grocery-store standard, creating a more open, navigable feeling, and tempting you to browse.
The self-service checkout was manned today by extra staff from other stores to ease the crowds. The checkout line backed up all the way around the interior of the store to the front door by 11 AM. The place was packed for the opening, so don’t expect that kind of traffic normally. We’ll have to see how shoppers do with self-checkout over time, as this is the only store on the street that has it.
Fresh N Easy clearly intends to be a neighborhood store, and a good neighbor. They gave a check for $1,000 at the opening to ASAP, and the store manager told me they’ve adopted Franklin Elementary. They’re thinking about taking an unusable little plot out back (zoned residential?!?) and turning it into a community garden. They offered to help the community with clean-ups in contributing supplies and volunteers, which is very much appreciated. We appreciated what looked like a responsible inventory for alcohol, given some of the challenges of the area.