Fresh & Easy may steer toward convenience - The Packer

Fresh & Easy may steer toward convenience

09/19/2013 12:38:00 PM
Pamela Riemenschneider

fresh and easy neighborhood marketPamela RiemenschneiderRumors that former 7-Eleven chief executive officer Jim Keyes will be taking over at Fresh & Easy have some speculating about the store's convenience future. Rumors that former 7-Eleven chief executive officer Jim Keyes will take the helm at Fresh & Easy could give some insight to the chain’s future.

But the El Segundo, Calif.-based chain being bought by Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Cos. LLC says so far the rumors are just that.

“There has not been an announcement, just a lot of speculation in the press,” said Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott, in an e-mailed statement.

Wonnacott did confirm the 50 stores not involved in the Yucaipa purchase are slated to close by Sept. 21. Yucaipa agreed to purchase 150 Fresh & Easy stores from United Kingdom-based Tesco PLC. The transaction, the terms of which were not disclosed, is expected to close in the next three months, the company said.

News reports say Keyes and Tim Ashdown, Fresh & Easy’s current chief executive officer, met with employees to discuss the company’s long-term plans. Some speculate this could be the return of the Wild Oats, a banner owned by Yucaipa Cos., but sources close to the company told the Los Angeles Times this was not the case.

James Tenser of Tuscon-based VSN Strategies said he expects the Fresh & Easy banner to remain active, which is consistent with Yucaipa’s other acquisitions.

“Longer term, I might anticipate an overhaul of the merchandising concept,” he said. “Ron Burkle use the code phrase ‘next-generation convenience retail experience’ to describe this. If I had to guess, I’d suspect more grab-and-go convenience foods, a mobile app and maybe a gourmet touch.”

Yucaipa could turn around Fresh & Easy, he said.

“Of course they see a path to asset appreciation, probably beginning with the locations,” Tenser said. “The portfolio is mostly strip centers and corner pads with quick auto access.”

As for bringing in a convenience-oriented chief executive, Tenser said Keyes is a strong candidate. “If it’s true, I don’t necessarily see his convenience store background to be as important as his gravitas as a CEO,” he said. “I see him as a potential transition figure who is willing to make some of the tough calls needed to reconfigure the business, then pass the mantle to a more operationally oriented leader in a year or so.”  

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