Fresh & Easy grocery stores get a make-over

The new look strikes customers as soon as they enter the Fresh &Easy Neighborhood Market grocery store — gone are the long, conventional supermarket aisles, replaced by an open, airy ambiance anchored by a grab-and-go and hot-food eating area in the center of the footprint.

The 167-store chain, based in Los Angeles, has spent the past several weeks relaunching some of its 19 grocery stores in the Las Vegas Valley. The Fresh &Easy locations are in California, Nevada and Arizona. At its peak in the Las Vegas market, the Fresh &Easy chain had 25 stores.

In November 2013, a court approved Yucaipa Cos. to take over the Fresh &Easy stores after its previous owner, British retailer Tesco, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September 2013.

The new-look grocery stores are being marketed as a destination where customers can buy a $3.99 smoothie, draw a tap for a Virgil’s cream soda, or buy a freshly made pizza fashioned in the on-site oven.

Much of the affordable food items remain.

But the layout consists of smaller, clustered bins and shelves where customers can buy everything from fruits and vegetables to pasta, homeopathic products and baby products.

“We’re treating this as a full relaunch of our brand,” Fresh &Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said. “It looks bigger than it is but it’s the same footprint … We wanted to take away that dungeon look and really open it up so that it’s easier to shop and find what you want.”

The self-checkout counters remain, but they have been augmented by three conventional checkouts staffed by Fresh &Easy workers.

A new seating area of about a half-dozen tables is part of the center of the store, where workers are making pizzas, sandwiches and soups.

The store’s look is reminiscent of a Trader Joe’s or a Sprouts.

Yucaipa’s kitchen facilities in Riverside, Calif., cranks out everything from take-and-bake pizzas to grilled chicken Caesar salads, while products of the company’s Wild Oats brand are also sold such as organic veggie wraps and spaghetti and “beetballs,” which are made from beets and brown rice.

”Our competitors are anyone who sells foods,” Wonnacott said. “It’s a destination. It’s more than a grocery store, coffee shop or convenience store.”

Supermarket analyst David Livingston said Fresh &Easy will face the challenge the trying to re-train customers, who might associate the brand name with the former product.

“I know they want to start over from scratch with something new. The problem they will have is F&E, and their locations, are associated with failure with the consumer. The consumer has been trained to avoid them, similar to as if someone were to take over Kmart and try to reinvent them,” said Livingston of DJL Research of Waukesha, Wis.

“There are concerns the locations will have a jinx on them left over from past failure despite how well the stores are improved,” he said.

The stores have about 25 workers per site and there about 500 employees in the Las Vegas market, Wonnacott said.

Contact reporter Alan Snel at asnel@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.

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