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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

            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

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

      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.

              2. Hit the Alma School & University one this week. Liked it. Highlights for me were being able to get smaller wedges of Humboldt Fog (less than the $12/13 1/2 wheel at AJ's), a fig jam/spread and British back bacon. Had yummy bacon sandwiches in Australia (where my wife is from) and looking forward to them again now!

                1. Since this thread deals with the AZ locations, I'll add that I stopped in at the new Fresh and Easy at Kyrene and Ray in Chandler this afternoon. Today was opening day and since I drive right by there on my way home from work I thought I'd stop in and see what they were doing for their grand opening.

                  This store was built from the ground up and not a converted location like the one on Alma School I've been going to recently. There's actually a noticeable difference in that this store was MUCH brighter and felt shiny, new and clean. You can really see in this location how effective their construction methods and lighting methods are for taking advantage of natural light. It gave the entire store a very light and airy feel that the other location can't pull off.

                  Products are the same as the other location There were lots of people in checking things out. Employees handing out samples all over the place and lots of help at the front end for check out. The store was busier than I've ever seen the other location but it is opening day.

                  I didn't pick up anything new except some California Rolls since I was hungry and hadn't had lunch. Comparable to the rolls that Trader Joe's sell these were a bit better. Nothign to get excited about but a decent quick, cheap bite to eat.

                  I was fairly negative on my first trip to Fresh and Easy but we've been shopping there regularly because of the Voskos yogurt we love(and those darn fig cookies! delicious). I'm really becoming a convert and now iwth this location in a spot where both husband and I drive by it daily I know we'll be stopping in often. Everything I've bought so far has been of very good quality and the prices seem very competitive(full disclosure: the only prepared food I've bought has been some mushroom soup, a frozen chicken stir fry, and today's california rolls. All have been good quality. I know this is supposed to be the bulk of their business but I'm not tempted much by prepared foods).

                  I'm now sold on their cut flowers. I bought some roses last week for $4.99 that opened beautifully and stayed fresh over a week and picked up a beautfiul bunch of sunflowers today for $4.99 as well.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ziggylu

                    I tried the peach/apricot bars that are right next to the fig bars... they're even better than the fig ones! The custom built locations have a very slightly larger selection of things, almost entirely in the toiletries selection along the front wall.

                    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                      really, better than the fig? That's saying a lot! Remember I'm a fig fanatic after all. :-) BUT...I also love peach so I'll have to pick those up next time and give them a try.

                      The new location feels like it has more inventory..and the freezer area may have been a little larger...not sure if it was an impression since the store is brighter which makes it feel larger. It definitely had more stock of each item...but again it was opening day and I know the Alma School location doesn't seem to be doing gangbusters so they probably keep inventories light as a result.

                      We also love the banana gelato. We try not to buy it often but when we do...good stuff!

                  2. Tried the new location at Higley and Guadalupe in Mesa today. Observations: much bigger than I thought it'd be, good cheese selection with good prices, free sample counter like TJ's. Got grape tomatoes for 73 cents because their expiration date was for tomorrow (original price 2.99 I think?). Friendly employee saw me rooting around and commented that they discount produce, prepared foods, anything with an expiration date within a day by at least 50%. Tried a baguette ($1.86) and it was on about the same level as Safeway, a little too dense and doughy. Also bought some Pancetta ($3ish for a small vacuum pack), Watermelon Juice ($2.98), Chives (big pack for <$2), and Hummus (<$2) that I haven't tried yet. The biggest advantage I see over TJ's is the proximity. They are planning to have 79 stores in the Valley by this time next year. We will be rolling in back bacon!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: yamalam

                      The store at Guadalupe and Higley is actually in Gilbert. I stopped there last week after they first opened and was very impressed. I lived in London for many years and never ever shopped at Tesco's. They were a bit downmarket in the 80's and 90's. This is totally different. I will be using them over TJ's because it's closer for me and they carry decent cheeses, creme fraiche and mascapone! I also loved their selection of Indian foods. Prices are pretty reasonable and the selection not too bad.

                      1. re: yamalam

                        I've been buying their markdowns on produce and meat for the last week. The produce, as long as it isn't obviously going bad when you buy it, seems to last as long as supermarket produce (4-5 days). The meats are also fresh on the last date. I don't have a problem with rewrapping and freezing the fresh meats if they're half off (and sometimes they're 75% off). The one item that doesn't seem to hold up well after the date are the chopped up vegs.
                        I've liked almost all of their own brand items. The only one that I might not buy again is the sliced precooked chicken breast.

                        1. re: mlgb

                          Went to the one on 19th ave and Glendale today. It was OK. Not that impressed yet. It seemed kind of empty.

                          I purchased Gresh and easy yogurt
                          mushroom soup
                          tortillas chips-spinach and artichoke flavor
                          italian chopped salad

                          haven't tried anything yet but will report back.

                          The desserts looked really good but stayed awy to be good.

                      2. I went to the one on Alma School/Elliott this past Sunday. Perhaps it takes more than one visit? I didn't really find much, and can't say that I thought the store itself was very nice. Kinda felt like a tiny warehouse. I guess, for me, TJ's is my first love, and since TJ's is right down the street from me, it's a lot closer (walking distance) even with the Baseline Road location F&E is building. I also think the prices at TJ's are, for the most part, lower, with a few exceptions. But, I shop a LOT at TJ's. Their selection is more in line with the types of things we eat. I don't buy much pre-prepared dinners and such.

                        Things I bought were:
                        Chocolate frosting that didn't have any partially hydrogenated stuff in it (can't wait to try)
                        Organic OJ
                        F&E berry cluster cereal
                        some small Ziploc containers that I can't find anywhere else.

                        Haven't tried anything yet so can't report on quality. I did like that the self-check registers had a button for "Using my own bag" - something that drives me nuts at Fry's. Can't put my own bag on the bagging shelf without setting off the stupid sensors.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jen76

                          I think it does take more than one visit. My first visit I had a negative impression of the store. Now it's my favorite place to shop. I'd probably never have gone back but I"d picked up some of the Voskos yogurt that first trip and we loved it...and kept going back to just pick that up. The more I went, the more I picked up each time in an effort to make less stops in a day. The more I picked up, the more I liked the store.

                          My sister had the same experience. She went once and wasn't impressed. She was surprised when I told her that I was shopping there a lot and asked what I buy....I told her I've been getting a lot of my regular shopping done there: produce, dairy, meat, pantry staples, even some fish. So she gave it a few more tries...now she's hooked as well. She's told me that she's encouraged one of friends from our tennis team to keep trying as well and that said friend has now become a fan as well after an initial negative impression.

                          Personally, it fits my lifestyle well. I like the quick in and out. I actually like the lack of choices. For 99% of what I buy I'm not brand loyal...I'm happy to see just one box of alum foil on the shelf when I need foil rather than having to sort through three feet of shelving to figure out which brand and box I really want.

                          I've found the quality of just about everything I've bought to be really great. Some things don't excite me: the few prepared items we've bought have just been OK(soups) and I bought some salsa last week that wasn't very good(apparently the english don't know much about salsa!).

                          The meat has all been really high quality and I"ve become addicted to browsing through the meat aisle in the afternoon for the half price markdowns which are still very fresh...I've stocked my freezer with some great items things way.

                          I think the cheese selection is good(though I was sad I coudln't find fontina last week) and for a two person household I like the fact the pieces are small.

                          Plus I love that I can park the car, go in and shop, and be back out in the parking lot in a matter of ten minutes of so.