The much-anticipated Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain opened the doors on its first four stores in Mesa and Chandler today.
The company, which is owned by Britain’s Tesco grocery chain, gave customers their first glimpses of the latest entrant into the Valley’s grocery industry.
The chain has announced 27 stores planned for the Valley so far.
But just how fresh or easy customers will find the chain’s store formats and product offerings is up for debate.
The company has been touting the stores for months, saying they offer a healthy alternative to mainstream grocery stores, but at affordable prices.
For example, the stores sell an abundance of ready-to-eat foods and organic and natural products.
“People don’t want their food messed with,” said company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott.
David J. Livingston, an industry analyst based in Wisconsin, said he doubts that the chain poses a large threat to competitors. He said that Valley residents already have a wide array of choices.
Adding to the company’s challenges are some mixed reviews of the Fresh & Easy stores in California.
“I think the majority believe (they’re) somewhat of a disappointment,” Livingston said.
Mindy McBain, a writer for a grocery trade publication called The Shelby Report, said the disappointment with some customers could stem from all the hype from the company.
“A lot of times, the hype may exceed expectations, and maybe there’s been too much hype,” she said.
McBain added that customers might not find much that is unique about Fresh & Easy’s small formats and fresh grab-and-go entrees.
She pointed to Chandler-based Bashas’ new store concept, AJ’s Petite — a smaller version of AJ’s Fine Foods that will offer healthy and freshly prepared foods.
“I think that AJ’s Petite is a perfect antidote to (Fresh & Easy),” she said.
McBain pointed to plenty of things that customers have glowed about, including wide aisles, pre-packed produce and product samples.
Tom Rex, an economist with Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said there’s still plenty of room for grocery chains like Trader Joe’s that offer healthy foods at affordable prices.
If Fresh & Easy is smart about where it opens stores, the chain will find a viable base among customers who don’t want to travel long distances for their groceries, he said.
Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market opened its first four stores in Mesa and Chandler.
Main Street and Ellsworth Road
Brown and Recker roads
Alma School Road and University Drive
Alma School and Elliot roads
A sampling of Fresh & Easy’s in-house products and prices:
Grab and go foods:
Vegetable spring rolls, $2.99 for one four-pack box
Chicken Caesar Salad, $3.68 for one 11-ounce bowl
Fruit and cheese plate with bread, $3.99 for one 8-ounce pack
Baby Sweet Peppers, $2.80 for one 12-ounce bag
Rosemary chicken dinner, $4.99 for one 24-ounce box
Braised beef dinner with vegetables, $4.99 for one 24-ounce box
New York Steak, $8.99 per pound
Chuck roast, $3.59 per pound
Corona beer, $7.92 per six pack
Korbel Brut champaign, $10.98 per bottle