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First Trip: Fresh & Easy, Mesa AZ

It was interesting looking through the LA boards about the new Fresh & Easy chain that British retailer Tesco has opened here in Arizona, Nevada, and California. A lot of people were critical about the lack of British food (do you really expect such things to sell well when their target demographic is everyday Americans?) and apparently excessive packaging (i.e. produce that's already bagged for convenience's sake). I just went to Fresh and Easy this morning and I would say I like it quite a bit. It is larger than a Trader Joe's by a good margin; the one I visited on Alma School and University was formerly a Walgreens-type drugstore and was still the same size. They showed a definite slant toward the predominantly Hispanic population in that neighborhood, with things like bolillo rolls, tres leches cake, and pig trotters (that last one with a primarily Spanish bilingual label). The British influence of Tesco is subtle, mainly through the hot tea being MUCH more prominent at the sample station than the coffee, a glut of Indian items in the heat-and-eat fridge and freezer cases, and a small handful of quintessentially British items scattered about, including Stilton cheese, back bacon, and shortbread. So you get an idea of prices, here's what I got:

10 oz Mint creme sandwich cookies, 1.99
12 oz Fig bars, 1.99
5 oz Jalapeño Cheddar potato chips, 1.19
10 oz Cheddar cheese crackers, 1.69
1 pound frozen edamame, 1.39
24 oz Frozen mac & cheese, 2.99
24 oz frozen Beef Bourguignonne dinner with veggies and mashed potatoes, 4.99
8 inch frozen pepperoni pizza, 3.89
20 oz Tomato basil soup, 2.99
Pint mango sorbet, 1.98
25 oz Puttanesca sauce, 2.39
16 oz organic ginger limeade, 1.98
16 oz peppermint infused water, .79
1 bottle Big Kahuna (store brand) Australian Cab/Shiraz blend, 2.99

for a grand total of 33 dollars and change. Not bad, about what I'd expect to pay, maybe a little less. Nothing strikes me as a steal value wise, but conversely, nothing is outrageously more than I'd expect to pay. Thank goodness they don't have those damn frequency cards, I despise those with a passion. After all, what's the use of paying 1.49 for a big box of cereal when the Ben & Jerry's ice cream is 4.50 a pint?

So far I have tasted the ginger limeade, the mint sandwich cookies, and the fig bars, and I think all of them are very high quality. The limeade is a good balance of sweet and tart, citrus and ginger. The filling of the fig bars is VERY figgy; now that I've tasted these ones, I might not be able to go back to another brand without quietly cursing that they aren't as figgy as F&E's. I wish the fig bars were whole wheat ones, but that's just personal preference coming into play. Next time, I'm tempted to pick up one of their chickens for roasting; butterflied and marinated, ready to pop in the oven, $2.99.

There are a number of things I noticed around the store that I was very happy to see. One big one is that the produce is very fresh; I don't remember the last time I was in a grocery store that the lemons actually SMELLED like fresh lemons off the tree! They have plenty of organic items, often at the same price as a similar non-organic item. And the ingredient lists on the house brand items (which is about 60 percent of the store, and 100 percent of what I bought today) are almost entirely things that I would use if I was making the same thing from scratch; no polysorbate 80 to be found anywhere, as far as I can tell.

There were some bugs that needed to be worked out. One puzzling thing was that the carts had little cupholders built into them, but they were practically useless since the beverages available in the store were all in straight-sided bottles that fit all the way through the cupholder. The self check-out is a bit different than I've seen, with a conveyor belt that scoots your goods down to the end of a regular length checkout counter to make it easier to bag them. Sometimes the conveyor belt would get a bit confused and not take the item all the way down to the end of the conveyor belt, or not even notice that a particularly light item was merrily sitting there, ready for its journey down the counter. I have a feeling that at least the technological issues will be taken care of in fairly short order.

The whole experience of shopping at Fresh & Easy is much like the food they serve... just a little bit different. Shopping carts are smaller, much of what they offer is ready to eat with minimal prep at home, and the check-out lanes are entirely self-check out. I got the sense that it really lives up to the name of "Neighborhood Market" a lot more than the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets that dot the east Valley; the staff was courteous enough to make me feel right at home, and the large amount of prepared perishables would mean that you'd make two or three small trips to the grocery store every week instead of one really big one. I would have been comfortable bicycling my purchases home, something I certainly couldn't say when I go to Super Target or even Trader Joe's. I'm looking forward to the ones closer to my place opening soon... Mesa is a lonnnnng way to go for me to pick up lunch supplies! It just might be worth it, though.

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  1. Small update shortly after the initial post... while I was banging out this post, I had the tomato basil soup and the beef Bourguignonne heating up, both in the microwave. They both totally rock. The soup is very comforting, and it tastes like ones I have made from scratch. The beef is falling apart tender, the mashed potatoes wonderfully creamy, and the veggies cooked up exactly the way I like them. And it all goes so well with the wine. I think the wine just might be a better deal than good ol' Three (née Two) Buck Chuck.

     
    6 Replies
    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

      is the food Tesco's own brand? I am so so jealous wish they would open Tescos on the East Coast too.

      1. re: smartie

        Everything that I picked up was Fresh & Easy brand, so yes, it is Tesco's own brand in a sense. There's really nothing in the store that says Tesco. The different items that are not store brand are major brand names, and the amount of them varies depending on what section of the store you are in; e.g. only a couple of toiletries are store brand, while the breads are exclusively Fresh & Easy brand.

        If these do well out here, expect to see the brand slowly creep across the country. As pleased as I was walking around, you shouldn't have to wait incredibly long.

        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

          Tesco is the largest retailer in the world.

          The stores are about 50-50 F&E brand. But the other 50% is not a huge selection. There is F&E ketchup and then Heinz Ketchup. No other choices.

          1. re: Cathy

            Cathy,
            Actually, Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world by a huge margin.
            Tesco is 15th.

            See http://www.siamfuture.com/RetailBusCe...

            1. re: StuCazzo

              That list is from 1999. Some combinations have happened since then, some have shrunk or at least stayed in place while some others have gotten larger. Tesco has been very successful since then. Wal-Mart is recognized as largest, but Tesco is either 5th or 3rd depending upon certain inclusions/exclusions in the top numbers. (By some measures, a couple of companies belong ahead of them, and by others those companies are not included or parts of them are counted separately.)

              1. re: StuCazzo

                Sorry.
                Britain's largest retailer.
                3rd largest retailer in the world.
                Wiki.

      2. I just had a post on my blog from someone at F&E... turns out that the thing that I thought was a cup holder is actually there to hold any flowers you've decided to purchase. And now I know why they have the flowers as one of the very first things you see when you walk in. Effing brilliant.

        1. Stopped in at this location yesterday. A few preliminary observations:

          If you don't like Trader Joe's, you probably won't like F&E. Both feature packaged produce, which I like, but some shoppers do not.

          A few observations:

          -- I tried the F&E brand veggie egg rolls; they're substantially better than their counterparts at TJ's.

          -- F&E's beer selection seems really weak; it's mostly just large boxes of domestic macrobrews. The beer could be a lot more interesting.

          -- The F&E private label items look appealing. Sometimes, however, they're located next to unappealing national brands. For example, F&E salad dressings sit next to Wishbone salad dressing. I go to stores like TJ's and F&E to escape over-advertised brands with long and scary ingredient lists, so seeing these national brands was a bit off-putting.

          -- F&E didn't have much in the way of seasonal goods. TJ's is a better place for Christmas shopping.

          -- Staff were very nice and helpful. I'm not a fan of self check-out, but an employee jumped into help with the process. It will be interesting to see if the process works as well when stores become more crowded.

          -- As at TJ's, there are no lottery tickets, sleazy magazines, or tobacco products for sale. That's nice.

          Overall: a promising start with some refinements needed. Small format grocery stores like these are a welcome alternative to increasingly large hypermarkets that overwhelm consumers with too many choices.

          1. I just got back from an 8 pm visit to the Fresh & Easy on Frank Lloyd and Shea, in Scottsdale and I have to say that I think I am in love. I like Trader Joe's but I always end up buying things that I never eat. F&E seemed much more....practical. I like that they had private label brands AND national brands. I liked the packaging of the produce and meat....everything really did appear fresh. I didn't buy much because I was there more out of curiosity than anything else. But I did notice that their fresh herbs were dramatically less expensive than the grocery store and the meat selection was excellent. (although I suspect that the giant containers of tripe and pig's feet weren't going to be leaving that store in someone's grocery bag any time soon...)

            Here's the punch line: the place made me want to......recycle. Seriously. The store had environmentally friendly lighting, packaging and the builders utilized "green building" techniques. And it was all done in a friendly, humorous and non-preachy manner. And, yes, I live in N. Scottsdale and drive a 12 mpg SUV.

            The moniker "Fresh & Easy" really does apply; but it applies better to my sophomore year prom date.

            1 Reply
            1. re: ejs1492

              I've been a few times to the one on Elliot now. I'm still ambivalent. I have to admit all the packaging freaks me out...a lot. I bought some veggies on my last trip and had to take it all out of the bags when I got home. Seemed like a waste(I usually only grab bags for produce if I'm buying multiples of something or they aren't normally bunched together...since I only buy for two it's not a lot of bags. I don't buy meat normally at mass market stores either so it's not typically on the foam trays and wrapped but wrapped for me in freezer paper.

              We used the eggplant, leeks and potatoes last night and they were all good quality though.

              But getting beyond all the prepackaging...we LOVE the nonfat Voskos greek yogurt they sell. Especially the fig flavor(or course!). It's really in low in sugar without using any of the fake stuff and tastes great. I'll be stopping in regularly for this.

              The private label fig newtons are also great...some of the best I've ever had...we've already gone through three packages.

              The banana gelato was also really good. We want to try the pistachio but refrained until the next visit as we recover from teh holiday eating...

              I think I prefer TJ's still...but the new Fresh and Easy on Ray is going to be super convenient for both me and DH coming home from work...so I can see us stopping in often to pick up those "on the way home" items.

              One observation: business is slow so check best by dates carefully. our most recent visit this last sunday much of teh dairy was right at sell by date with only a day or so to go.

            2. I read this article 3 times and still can't find the bloody address of this place in Mesa.
              Isn't that the first rule of a good writer is to define who he is writing about, i.e.;where it is located. Sooooooooo.....what is the address of this Fresh & Easy store in Mesa???? I want to go shop there.
              Please respond back.
              Cheers, Ed

              1 Reply
              1. re: i shop too

                First paragraph, dear. "The one I visited on Alma School and University". You can also look up their website at www.freshandeasy.com to see where the other six currently open are located.