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Fresh N Easy Opens on Milpas Street

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!

They have microwaves in the front of the store, behind the self-service checkout, for the lunch set.

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.

On leaving, I noticed one shopper making off with a cart, which is another struggle in the neighborhood.

8 Responses to “Fresh N Easy Opens on Milpas Street”

  1. Bill Trent

    Fresh and Easy is a brand owned by UK supermarket giant Tesco. They have a shocking reputation in the UK – their business model is to find towns with a vibrant Main St. full of mom-and-pop stores, open a big supermarket nearby and undercut local prices so much that the friendly local shops are forced to close due to lack of business, then immediately jack up their prices again.

    They are also known for using extremely dubious tactics against their suppliers, small farmers etc.who provide their products: forcing them to lower their prices so that Tesco can make bigger profits, using the threat of being delisted (having their entire product range removed from the shelves) to twist the arms of the little guys.

    Quote: “The Ultimate Cheeseburger meal feeds 8, and comes in at $2 per person, including bacon and all the trimmings.” Ask yourself how it’s possible to sell something like that for two dollars per person. Even considering the fact that the ingredients and processing that’s gone into that are going to be very low quality indeed (and likely very unhealthy), how can you buy the raw materials, package it, ship it, sell it and still make a profit at $2 per head? Someone’s getting squeezed somewhere.

    There is a big backlash against Tesco in the UK right now – it’ll be interesting to see if the same happens in the US.

  2. Very interesting, Bill Trent; I had read some of that at the time it was going for permits.

    I stopped yesterday around 5, parking lot was full and definitely too small – as of day one, at least (and first day is not a fair sample). I parked about a block and a half away, walked past people pushing full shopping carts home — is that borrowing or stealing? — wandered around the store, found it crowded and dense. On a brief check, prices seemed slightly higher than at TJ’s, with, of course, some specials, including those strawberries some of which did not looked picked yesterday.

    They lucked out with the failure of Scolaris but from a first glance it’s not what’s needed for the area, which really does need another supermarket.

    • agreed

      S. B. duped? not impressed at all,,, prices high! small store… joes n tri county for me… thought they would at least have some great opening prices???? NOT

  3. Basket case

    Taking shopping carts is stealing and requiring shopping cart pick-ups after the theft increases everyone’s grocery bills. Tesco has already proven they are not good neighbors regardless of their token check for puppies. Carts can cost over $1000 each and the ones with electronic locks at Ralphs even more. Vagrants pushing stolen carts around town have committed grand theft.

    • These people did not look like vagrants, but regular shoppers. F & E needs to keep an eye on the parking lot and stop carts from being removed.

      However, left on the street as TJ’s carts now are and as are the new ones, they make good peeing posts for dogs, here where hydrants are few.

  4. I live in the UK. Tesco’s were not responsible for “decimating High Streets”. Stores like Toys R Us started a trend for out of town shopping areas but more recently internet shopping and an efficient postal system have been taking their toll. If anything Tesco Express (small) stores have been putting grocers back into main streets.

    When I worked in the US in the 2000’s I would have welcomed a store like Fresh & Easy. It was so hard to get food that wasn’t processed.

    Choice is good. If people don’t like the quality and price they will shop somewhere else – that’s how it is in the UK anyway and we have far more competition than I ever saw in the US. People shop around.

  5. ViewingSB

    I liked it seemed quite convenient, not a bad selection, I will still go to the other places but Fresh and Easy will be a stop for me now also. I don’t understand where all the whining is coming from as Vons, Ralphs or Albertsons have dubious corporate reputations, parking sucks at all the Trader Joes in town, every store has deals to get you in the door and then the cost evens out as you buy other items. Yeah Milpas needs a full service grocery store its a underserved population there but why whine about this what do you want the city council to buy a grocery store and open it there.

    They had a decent salsa and fresh bread which was nice and I saw someone going down the street with their “complimentary” shopping cart as well. .

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