Pamela Riemenschneider, Retail Editor RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — On a recent trip to Southern California, I decided to give Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market another shot.
I was not impressed the first time I visited a store in Las Vegas.
That the El Segundo-based retailer closed the location shortly after I visited probably speaks to why half the produce on the barren shelves was out of date and poorly merchandised.
I searched from my hotel room in San Bernadino and it looked like I could pretty much throw a rock out the window and hit one in any direction.
The first one I tried, in Loma Linda, hadn’t opened yet. I ended up in a decent neighborhood in Rancho Cucamonga.
This was a very different experience, but that’s not unique to Fresh & Easy.
The H.E. Butt right next to my house in Austin, Texas, isn’t as nice as the H.E.B. Plus about a mile in the other direction.
This store was inspiring. Fresh & Easy has one aisle for produce, with a refrigerated side and a non-refrigerated side.
I hung around as long as I could and still not be too conspicuous.
Everything was fresh and, even though it sounds corny, “easy.”
Who is Fresh & Easy going after?
This model probably doesn’t work for the majority of us, but one type of consumer certainly stands out in my mind.
They need to drop one of these stores either on, or directly across the street from, every major college campus in the country.
In fact, while I was standing there trying to be incognito, a pack of hipster student-types wandered through looking for food for a Labor Day outing.
They picked up salads, grillables and a few different types of potatoes for their feast, and stood there talking about the fresh prepared meals.
One said, “I love this place because it has lots of food for lazy people like me.”
And she was right.
This store is full of healthful and inexpensive prepared foods perfect for people who don’t think twice about paying $4 for a cup of coffee.
I picked up one of their Farmers Market salads to take with me to the airport. It cost $3.99 and included a tasty vinaigrette, and, though I didn’t realize it until later, it even had a tiny little McGyver-like folding spork tucked under the label.
This salad was so big that I couldn’t finish it, and, even with the vinaigrette, it was only 170 calories.
I was so impressed I raved to the lady sitting next to me on the flight from Ontario to Phoenix.
She, a mother of three teenagers who said she hates to cook, said she lives in Rancho Cucamonga and had never shopped at Fresh & Easy but was intrigued enough to give it a shot.
That’s the problem.
The store’s ideal shopper — who wants to eat healthful foods but doesn’t want to or can’t cook — must not be getting the message.
Visit my blog on ProduceRetailer.com to see a slide show from my visit and stay tuned for the next Pamela’s Kitchen where I put one of Fresh & Easy’s microwave side dishes to the test.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.