All Fresh & Easy Stores ''Likely'' to Close or Be Sold Off

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Remarks made Wednesday at Fresh & Easy headquarters in El Segundo apparently signal the end of the West Coast grocery chain.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Philip Clarke, CEO of Fresh & Easy parent company Tesco, said Tesco is conducting a strategic review of its stores that is likely to result in the sale or closure all of its 200 Fresh & Easy stores in the United States.

"It's likely, but not certain, that our presence in America will come to an end," said Clarke. Tesco also announced that Fresh & Easy President/CEO Tim Mason is leaving Tesco.

The Journal calls Tesco's Fresh & Easy venture "the $1.6 billion grocery flop," referring to money spent by Tesco on Fresh & Easy since the chain opened in 2007. Clarke declined to comment on why the store that his predecessor said would be "the perfect store for the American consumer in the 21st century" failed to catch on, but market analysts quoted by the Journal point to a miscalculation on the part of British-based Tesco for differences in the preferences of British versus American shoppers, who had trouble with "British-style ready meals, self-service cash registers and unorthodox store layouts."

The Long Beach Post contacted five local Fresh & Easy stores—four in Long Beach, one in Signal Hill—to inquire about business at those stores. "Business is up," said one store manager, while another labeled business as "consistent." One manager said his store is "really busy" and said he was surprised by the news, although others indicated they were not surprised. All managers declined to comment on the news of the likely closures, saying they were ordered not to discuss the matter by Fresh & Easy's corporate office.

The Post attempted to obtain comment directly from Fresh & Easy's El Segundo office, but after being disconnected while on hold, an apparent glitch in the office's phone system meant that after the main voicemail greeting, all calls either rang interminably or looped back around to the same greeting.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in October Tesco halted further investment in Fresh & Easy, apparently giving up the chain's future.

"I don't think there's any more that we could have done," Clarke said Wednesday.

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