Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fresh and Easy - That's My Style (or, "Tesco, Can You Hear Me?")

I love Fresh and Easy. That's what my friend Jim told me last September when a Fresh and Easy supermarket opened up in Yucaipa, where he lives. After visiting today, I am of the same opinion: I love the place.

I was early meeting him for lunch (Tokyo Sushi for a super-filling meal), so I decided to visit Fresh and Easy. As I've mentioned in the past, F&E is owned and operated by the UK-based Tesco Supermarket chain. Their mission: to open up supermarkets in urban places, especially the inner cities. Yucaipa is not the inner city. It's about as rural and rednecky as you could ever hope for (besides, maybe, Banning). So why open up a fresh and fun Fresh and Easy store right across from Yucaipa's "master-planned golf course community" (I'm not kidding), now covered in all the ooze and goo that is the uber-bursted housing bubble? Who cares why? It's awesome!!!

The one time I went into a Tesco sandwiched in between compact buildings in a tiny corner of St. John's Wood in London, I saw the same crispness and efficiency of the layout. Like Tesco, Fresh and Easy prides itself on higher quality at an affordable price. The prices were slightly higher than those at Trader Joe's (with more fresh produce and other stuff you would find in a supermarket but not at Trader Joe's), and much lower than those at Whole Paycheck Foods.

They also have a free sample section with several different free samples, just waiting to be eaten. Their hash browns and homemade macaroni salad were pretty tasty - not the best, but definitely good. And employee enthusiasm is not to be taken lightly. The woman manning the free sample section insisted on giving me a ten-minute tour of the place when I told her that I had never before been. She told me about how:

  • this location was the first in the Inland Empire that had been built for F&E instead of just moving into a pre-existing location. You can tell by the skylights, which are put in to save on energy.
  • everybody who comes in zeroes in on the "Day-Old / Up to 50% Off" section, by the beer (Oh GOD, do I miss living in a state that allows supermarkets to sell alcohol!). I bought lemon bars that were about 25% lower than their normal cost.
  • the place prides itself on natural ingredients, without the ridiculous markup that the sometimes-valid, sometimes-dubious "ORGANIC" label brings.
  • it's a place that a lot of people come into just to buy something quick and cheap and tasty.
  • most of its wares are shipped to their Moreno Valley warehouse and then distributed to all the area F&E's, thereby reducing carbon emissions from the trucks.
She showed a zeal for the place that lay somewhere between "Scientologist" and "Chick-Fil-Aniac" on the enthusiasm scale (that is, quite high). But while it may be easy to poke fun, I can understand her enthusiasm. It is a lovely place, and many of the items sold at F&E are indeed F&E brand items, packaged in much the same way that Tesco items are packaged.

I did buy some items. I went for the aforementioned lemon bars for a mere £1.40 $2.25. Along with those, I got a bottle of mint-flavored water for 60 cents. They also have cucumber, strawberry and (get this) coconut. Total after tax: about three bucks.

A few snacky things from Tesco, American-Style

Honestly, I do see myself going there next Tuesday (the day before I fly back home), buying a few supplies, and shipping them back to Baltimore. When did I last do that? Oh yeah, it was about 12 years ago, after I had moved to California and found this great place called "Trader Joe's" that had yet to move into the Baltimore area. Then it was for family. This time, it's mine! (Yes, and theirs, too.) Maybe Tesco will plop a few Fresh and Easy's somewhere in Baltimore someday?