Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fresh & Easy opens on Eagle Rock Blvd.

Today it finally happened - the highly anticipated, long awaited opening of the Fresh & Easy grocery store on Eagle Rock Blvd. in Los Angeles. The store has been touted as competition for Whole Foods (who coincidentally just opened a new store in Pasadena which is supposed to be the largest Whole Foods to date) and Trader Joe's so I couldn't wait for today's grand opening to the public so I could finally check it out.

Earlier in the day when I drove past the store, picketers were out front holding a "Shame on Fresh & Easy" labor dispute banner. In the evening, they were handing out flyers. One picketer was out there in the cold holding his toddler in a Baby Bjorn. Does anyone know what it's about? I read that they pay a minimum of $10/hour, and prior to opening they had want ads out for positions paying $13/hr with benefits. I had the impression they were good to their employees.

Pulling in anyway, every parking spot was taken and cars were circling waiting for a spot to open up. I remember when it used to be an Albertson's and there was always plenty of parking. Strange when it has a new face, but it's the same place, and now it's packed.

When Albertson's closed, the building remained vacant for a long time which wasn't good for the neighborhood. (Although I can't say I was sad to see Albertson's go, as I had stopped shopping there a long time before, after 2 consecutive visits I came home with spoiled chicken.)

So all this excitement about the building being newly occupied again, an upscale grocery store in our neighborhood, and an alternative to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's - I couldn't wait.

Q: Did it live up to all the hype?
A: Sadly - No.

What happened to the Organic items?
I had read that the store was "green" environmentally friendly and they had many organic items. However, after shopping there, I was very disappointed to find only a few organic items:
1) Chocolate (I snagged a bar.)
2) Milk (I stock up on organic milk from Costco which is a better deal, is really fresh with a later expiration date, and I don't run the risk of running out.)
3) Juice (Nice to have but my family rarely drinks juice.)
4) Frozen peas and corn (I snagged a bag.)
5) Amy's frozen pizza (I snagged one.)

Unlike Trader Joe's, there wasn't even a small organic produce section. Nor were there any organic eggs to be found (there was cage free as if that's any consolation prize). But the kicker came when I went to look for organic cereal for my 2 1/2 year old daughter. I couldn't find a single one! (Lots of Fresh & Easy knock offs though.) Both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have shelves stocked with a variety of organic cereals. Also, their meat section was lacking of any organic (or at least "all natural" hormone/antibiotic free) fresh products (including poultry) that I shop for at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

Nor were there any organic or "salt free" snacks (like pretzels and tortilla chips). I found their selection to be less upscale, and more the "Doritos" kind of snacks that a Ralphs keeps in stock.
Decor that shouts minimal and cheap
I like their signage, (props to the graphic designers), but the store's decor reminded me of a Costco wholesale type store with it's merchandise packed into opened cardboard boxes stacked up on flimsy plastic shelving.

Problems with the Layout
They definitely didn't do a good job with the interior layout (no Feng Shui that's for sure). Many of the aisles are too narrow, or partially blocked with poles holding up the roof, which makes it difficult to maneuver around other shoppers. It might just be the mad rush of opening day, but it was MAD getting around that store. Shopping cart traffic jams everywhere. Also the check out system is way lame. You line up in front of the cashier, which causes more congestion in front of the store, so people are stuck waiting in line while people are trying to get by them. It would make more sense to have customers stand towards the end of the register lane so that at least one shopping cart would be out of the way. But here everything is done up front. I also have to reach over the cashier's screen to sign my name on the credit card machine (just awkward).

What they did Right
1) They opened a store in my neighborhood. Kudos and long overdue!
2) They mailed out $10 coupons to the neighborhood, which brought in more customers. And after my purchase I received a $6 coupon (on my next purchase over $30).3) They have a decent cheese section (varieties from Holland and Britain).
4) They had staff assigned to direct traffic (both in the parking lot and at the registers).
5) Their staff was friendly and easily identifiable with their green Fresh & Easy shirts.
6) They really brought out the community (look we're all talking about it!).
7) Although they're a British company, they really do feel local.
8) Easily accessible restrooms. (Hey I have a toddler who just started wearing panties, so good, clean, and easily accessible restrooms are important.)
The cashier was more than happy to let me take his photo.
The fellow bagging my groceries had them bagged in plastic before the cashier alerted him that I had brought my own bags. He complimented me on my wholesale sized/reusable bags that I picked up from Costco. He loved my one insulated bag with the silver lining so much he said, "I've never seen a bag like this before. It's so cool I almost want to buy it from you."
9) On the way out I heard one lady ask for a free bag - which they ran out of and said they'd have more tomorrow. So although I didn't receive one, it was still a nice gesture.

Constructive Feedback
I wrote to the company and gave them some feedback in case there's a chance they're listening and will makes some changes (more importantly stocking up on more organic products in the future).
Considering what could have gone into that vacant lot, believe me I'm grateful for a grocery store and I hope they're successful.

If they are listening - Great. If they're not, then I have to admit that as much as I like the idea of having an upscale grocery store in my neighborhood, there isn't a lot that I shop for in that store. It's conveniently located so I might make a quick stop if I need to run in and get an item or two, but other than that, I don't see myself shopping there for my weekly groceries. I hope they're listening. The store just didn't live up to the hype and my expectations (I was hoping for better), so it was disappointing.

The first thing my husband asked when he walked in the door was, "So how was it???" (Fresh & Easy)


Anonymous said...

I'm bummed to hear it didn't live up to the hype... although the hype was pretty big. Still, it's so conveniently close to me that it will most likely be part of my grocery shopping routine and it sounds like it has some decent items. Heck, the Albertson's before wasn't as good and i still shopped there out of convenience!

$10 coupons mailed to the neighborhood??? When was that? Where was I? Maybe I missed it in the mail?

Mike said...

Excellent review, Rose! We must have just missed each other.

Anonymous said...

Good luck getting F&E to respond to you. I have been trying to get them to answer my e-mails for months, but I never get any response. I think the organic thing was all just hype. It killed me to see Kellogs Frosted Flakes on a shelf. You would never see such commercial crap at Trader Joes.

Anonymous said...

I heard they only used part of the space occupied by the previous grocery store. What went into the remaining space?

Rose said...

There was a banner sign hanging down off the building advertising for the additional space, (and since taken down), but the front facade of the entire building looks like Fresh & Easy. There's no noticeable gap, or open space that's viewable from the front. Haven't been round back. So to answer your question - I don't know what if anything went in there.

Anonymous said...

I love Fresh & Easy! It's cheap, clean and fresh. To the lady who said "you never see commercial crap at Trader Joes?- dont go back. We don't need snobby people like you in our neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel it is snobby to express a dislike towards imposter earth friendly stores. I like their treatment of employees and views on energy saving, but I too had too high hopes for the products.
A store just opened down the street from me in Az. I was excited as the nearest whole foods is a 20 in drive. I left the store with some sea salt and organic peas.
They market themselves as an organic store, but their "fresh and easy" brand foods don't have the labeling that makes me feel safe purchasing their products. A lot of things are simply not labeled "organic" which means it isn't. I think there are a lot of people shopping there thinking the store is like whole foods and it isn't. Sad.

Agreed- one quick stop place but not safe to send my husband out to alone ;-)

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