first_imgAnd you thought David Beckham’s arrival in Los Angeles was exciting. Now, Southern California foodies are salivating over the next British invasion: U.K. grocery retailer Tesco plans to open its first U.S. stores right here, with at least 12 outlets slated to open in November. Initially, the chain wants to draw shoppers in Lakewood, Compton, Hollywood, West Covina, Arcadia, San Dimas, Glendora, Norwalk, La Mirada and Eagle Rock. While it’s known as the English Wal-Mart, Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores will be smaller markets, similar to Trader Joe’s. “Fresh and Easy will be a smaller-sized grocery store (about 10,000square feet) with a focus on selling fresh and wholesome foods,” Tesco spokeswoman Brendan Wonnacott said. “They are designed for the American consumer and are not planned to carry traditional British items.” “There will be room for them, as the population is growing … there are a lot of areas that can use better grocery service,” said Nancy Sidhu, an economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. Going on the assumption that shoppers are fed up with the jumbo-supermarket model, the new Fresh & Easy stores will be closer to the size of a typical Trader Joe’s. Apparently, Tesco has even had some success at hiring Trader Joe’s employees to work at their new Fresh & Easy stores – which will focus on high-quality, low-cost prepared foods for time-starved consumers. Top secret Tesco is keeping details about the debut very secret, creating a buzz of anticipation more appropriate for a Hollywood premiere than a supermarket chain. “Everybody’s kind of waiting for it to launch,” said Jennifer Halterman, a senior consultant at industry research company Retail Forward. Tesco reportedly sent in a team of forward operatives posing as filmmakers to test the market by opening a warehouse in Santa Monica with food samples and telling passers-by that it was a film set. But Fresh & Easy isn’t catering to a highbrow crowd, and customers looking for British staples will be disappointed. In fact, the El Segundo-based company’s commitment to opening a store in South Los Angeles and other areas underserved by chain markets is part of its strategy. “It’s exposed a unique niche concept,” Halterman said. “Going into areas that are supermarket deserts, (they’ve) identified a unique niche: fresh food in a convenient setting.” According to a company newsletter, Fresh & Easy will stock prepared and organic food and everyday items, such as Italian pasta, fresh strawberry preserves and Latino pastries, at affordable prices. Taking cues from Trader Joe’s and Costco, the stores will offer food samples on a kitchen table in each outlet, and Wachovia Bank ATMs will be available in the stores. Easy food fad Prepared food that saves time is clearly the priority at other new market concepts popping up. Famima – a high-end convenience store that sells Japanese cookies, sushi, lattes and dishes such as pad thai and spaghetti – has rolled out 14 stores since opening in 2004, all in affluent areas of Los Angeles. Whole Foods Market, which just completed its acquisition of Wild Oats, announced recently that it will test a new Whole Foods Express concept store in Boulder, Colo. Even Wal-Mart is rumored to be exploring scaled-down retail spaces that let customers get in and out more quickly. Indeed, industry watchers say the era of the supersized grocery store might be ending. “The idea of a 30,000- or 40,000- or 50,000-square-foot store is a model of the ’70s and ’80s,”’s Lempert said. “I’m not sure people want to shop that way.” Still, many stores are still betting on big. Traditional grocers are remodeling their stores or even expanding in anticipation of new competition. “The new Safeway concept stores are even larger,” Lempert said. Steven Burd, CEO of Safeway Cos., the parent company of Vons, has said Safeway stores can hold their own against a new competitor such as Fresh & Easy. “I expect them to take somebody’s business,” Burd reportedly told investors during a conference call. “We just don’t expect it to be ours.” A spokesman for Tesco said the company doesn’t discuss competition issues. Responding to a question about how Monrovia-based Trader Joe’s is reacting to Tesco’s arrival, a spokeswoman provided a corporate statement saying, “We at Trader Joe’s are simply focused on getting better at what we do every single day; we’re not concerned about what other retailers say and do.” Shoppers curious Consumers seem open to giving the new markets a try. “I would go in,” said Irene Trafecanty, a homemaker from West Hills who was shopping at a Trader Joe’s recently. She said Trader Joe’s has become her primary store, especially since the supermarket strikes of recent years. “It’s healthy; it’s not expensive. I like fresh items like the olive oil, the whole-wheat pizza dough.” Another shopper, Encino resident Florence Bassir, said she was recently in a Tesco store in London and liked it. She said she likes the idea of another store that stocks unusual items at a cheap price. “People are looking for unique things.” Of course, Los Angeles has a history with big-box retailers: Many trying to enter the market have been rebuffed by communities concerned that the jobs they promise to bring aren’t always delivered. Britt Beamer, a retail analyst at America’s Research Group, said Tesco doesn’t carry the negative baggage of Wal-Mart, which might give it a better chance in California. Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market has made a commitment to building environmentally friendly stores and providing superior benefits to employees. Wages will start at $10 an hour – above minimum wage – and the company says it will offer paid time off, health insurance and a retirement plan. Labor eyes Tesco But grocery labor advocates are skeptical. “They say they’re going to pay more, and that sounds good, but we don’t know if that’s the starting wages as well as the ending wage,” said Elliott Petty, retail policy advocate for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. “Tesco has a 30 percent market share in Britain, and they want to do the same thing here. We saw three years ago that Wal-Mart wanted to come in, and the response among the big three markets was to cut jobs.” He pointed to a recent report from Occidental College critical of some of Tesco’s labor practices. A coalition of groups, including the Alliance, has been asking Fresh & Easy to put its workplace promises in writing, but so far it hasn’t received a response. But Fresh & Easy is no Wal-Mart, and other analysts say that if the stores are good and cheap, the politics won’t matter. “The thing about Tesco, aside from being a well-run company,” Lempert said, “is that they celebrate food.” (818) 713-3662160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! He declined to describe who the main competitors of the new stores might be in a region already saturated with various grocery store brands. More outlets are planned for the Inland Empire, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix. A 1,200-acre food-preparation and -distribution facility the company is building at the former March Air Force base near Riverside will be big enough to supply hundreds of stores. “Tesco is a brilliant retailer, and their coming to America is a real wake-up call,” said Phil Lempert, founder of Santa Monica-based, a health and food news Web site. “They understand that consumers want convenience and healthy food.” Tesco won’t say why it is targeting Southern California as its launching pad in the United States, but local economists say the Los Angeles region’s exploding population, and its lack of supermarket chains in low-income areas, makes it attractive to a retailer with deep pockets and big plans. last_img

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