(April 3, 2:25 p.m., UPDATED COVERAGE) While it may or may not have planned to do so all along, new retail kid on the block Fresh & Easy has plenty of kinks to work out during a three-month hiatus from new store openings, said a retail produce industry analyst.

Fresh & Easy, the U.S. division of British retail giant Tesco, will not open any new stores between mid-April and early July, said Brendan Wonnacott, a company spokesman.

But despite media accounts to the contrary, that was the chain’s intention from the beginning, Wonnacott said. New Fresh & Easy stores will resume opening in July, he said. The first ones opened in Southern California in November.

“This is not a scale-back or a halt,” Wonnacott said. “This was planned all along. Tesco does this in all its expansions.”

Sales at Fresh & Easy stores have not been meeting expectations, and the chain will have its plate full making adjustments — including in the produce department — between now and July, said industry analyst Dick Spezzano, president of Spezzano Consulting Services, Monrovia, Calif.

“I don’t know if it was part of their master plan, but it was the right move,” Spezzano said of the three-month break. “Tesco is one good company, but they haven’t shown it yet here.”

While other industry analysts’ estimates of Fresh & Easy’s weekly per-store sales are probably low, the chain is under-performing, Spezzano said.

He estimated sales at $100,000 per store per week, about half of what the company had expected.

Wonnacott said the chain hasn’t been open long enough to start releasing financial figures.

Fresh & Easy, which has opened 59 stores in its first four months, is satisfied with the performance of its fresh produce and other categories, Wonnacott said.

“We’ve been encouraged with everything we’ve seen thus far,” he said. “Each week we’ve seen increased sales. We’ve been very pleased with reception across the board, particularly with fresh foods.”

Wonnacott did acknowledge that the company already has made some changes and expects to make more, using the next three months to evaluate the success of its stores.

The company has, for instance, made changes to its prepared food offerings and begun accepting American Express, Wonnacott said.

Spezzano, who lives near three Fresh & Easy stores and visits them frequently, said the chain needs to do a better job of restocking sold-out fresh produce items. Late in the day, he said, he has seen as many as 40 items in the department sold out.

Fresh & Easy may not be the only U.S. retail chain in need of some retooling. According to media accounts, Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has cancelled the construction of 64 new supercenter and conventional stores in the past 10 months.

Wal-Mart officials would not comment on the accounts.

In an October news release, Wal-Mart projected lower capital expenditures for the next three years. The company spent $12.2 billion on capital expenditures for new Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in the U.S. in 2007. That is expected to fall to $10.3 billion to $10.8 billion in 2008, $8.7 billion to $9.9 billion in 2009 and $8.3 billion to $9.2 billion in 2010.