(March 31, 5:11 p.m.) Despite media reports to the contrary, a Fresh & Easy spokesman denies claims that the company is scaling back openings of its U.S. retail stores.

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, spokesman.

But 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.”

ENCOURAGED, SO FAR

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 March 31.

“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.”

In a company blog, however, Simon Uwins, Fresh & Easy’s marketing director, said the company had
“given ourselves a little bit of time to kick the tires, smooth out any wrinkles, and make some improvements that customers have asked for.”

CHANGES EXPECTED

According to some March 31 media accounts, Fresh & Easy’s financial performance has fallen short of expectations. Wonnacott said the chain hasn’t been open long enough to start releasing financial figures.

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 cards, Wonnacott said.

Wonnacott did not say how many stores Fresh & Easy hopes to open by the end of 2008 or 2009.