It’s Fresh! It’s Easy! It Has a Crappy Yogurt Selection!

So days later than intended, I finally went to the grocery store–by myself. It’s this new place in a very old place, and my mother had told me this morning that they were handing out $5 Off coupons. I’d been meaning to try it for a while; it opened a few months ago in a storefront that had been vacant in a sorry strip mall that has been hoping for an anchor store since the Ralph’s closed after the Southern California grocery workers’ strike in 2003. There’s an LA Fitness at one end, but a big, vacant hole at the other. And now, a Fresh & Easy! A customer at another grocery store had raved about it to me while we were in the canned chili aisle. I’ve been remembering that I’ve forgotten I’ve been wanting to go for a while now.

Mine is one of those environmentally hip locations with reserved parking for hybrid cars. It also had a few spaces for parents with children, which is nice, but this is not a very deep parking lot and there were handicapped spaces between them and the store, so they weren’t closer. And they weren’t terribly close to the cart corral, either. That’s the only place I’ll consider parking when I have kids and a grocery cart to handle. I mean, they are riding in the cart, and then you don’t have to leave them in the car alone while you trek a mile to put the cart away. Unless, of course, you’re one of those dipshits who always leaves the cart wherever you happen to park. I hate those guys. But that’s a tangent I will not fully explore, lest I offend some of my readers. Just put your damn carts away, OK?

The store is pretty small, but the aisles are wide and the cart is full-sized. They don’t have checkout clerks (although they will bag your groceries), so everything is prepackaged with a bar code to save you the hassle of learning produce codes and weighing stuff. Except bananas–you have to count your own bananas. The aisles being wide and the cart full-sized is a huge improvement over Trader Joe’s for me. I like Trader Joe’s a lot, but it is too difficult for me to shop there regularly with my entourage. This place will in no way supplant Trader Joe’s when I need a fantastic something to bring to a party that will fit in the back of a cart with two kids. It is OK then to put up with the crowds and the narrow aisles and the line. There’s no way I could bring home a week’s worth of food. Besides, the Fresh & Easy cart had a cupholder! Disregarding the fact that a can of soda would fall right through, I thought that was pretty darn cool.

The produce selection was fine, I suppose. The fruit all had expiration dates on it, but all the bananas were green. The berries were very inexpensive, although the raspberries are leaking pink juice out of the bottom of the carton. The fresh salsa selection wasn’t great; half of it was bruschetta. There were quite a few pre-sliced mixes of things, like a three-pepper medley of slices. THOSE were expensive. There were a lot of prepackaged entrees for one that I didn’t peruse. There were enough dry goods on the shelves, although it was a lot of the “Fresh & Easy” brand.

I’m not a brand snob, really, but I asked an employee. I didn’t think there was some Fresh & Easy factory but it’s obvious that many, many of these products are also being sold as the Target “Market Pantry” line. I bought two salad dressings but I forget which ones; maybe a mandarin something. It’s the snack bars that are definitely the same as Target. They even feel the same inside the wrappers!

The yogurt was too expensive, except for YoPlait, which I hate. There were a few tubs of Mountain High, but in regular flavor; I like vanilla. The soup selection was bad; the Ben & Jerry’s was cheap (but I didn’t buy any). The breads looked hearty but the one I got is a little sour for sandwiches. It’s extra robust, and has “wheat blossoms” in it; I expect it will be fantastic toasted with a thick soup but it was hard for Fella and Filly to choke down with peanut butter.

The best part of the trip (besides the solitude) was that Diet Cokes appear to be for sale for $6 a 24-pack. That is a price you can’t even get at Costco.

I struck up a conversation with someone stocking the shelves and she made some comment about how this chain was operated by the “Wal-Mart of Europe.” Turns out the Wal-Mart of Europe is Tesco. Interesting… Looking this up on the Internet was far more entertaining than anything on the official website. The Tesco Wiki page calls the Fresh & Easy chain a group of “convenience stores.” The Fresh & Easy Wiki page calls them “small supermarkets.” (I won’t quibble about the mutually exclusive terms.) The San Diego Union Tribune calls them neither fresh nor easy. The gist of the article is that the corporation did not do enough market research before plunging into a huge commitment of storefronts and a distribution center; the comments touch on the fact that people think they offer bland products in ghetto locations. Let the record show that I did not attend one of these locations, but it is in a sad, sorry strip mall waiting for an anchor. The shadow of Ralph’s looms large above it and the discount bookstore (you know, one of those places with no reliable inventory stacked up sort of by genre on picnic tables that takes only cash?) isn’t helping.

I don’t know if I’ll go back. The soda, like I said, is a great price and the store was easy to navigate. The whole wheat pasta was a great bargain (of course, I haven’t made any yet) and the Triscuits were also cheaper than they tend to be elsewhere. It’s on the way to a major freeway and a JoAnn’s craft store, as well as a county branch library and major shopping mall. It’s in the vicinity of the post office, too. I’m certainly not going to do anything rash like smear its name or boycott it. But I am a little disappointed in a place that sells “Huge Chunks of Belgian Dark Chocolate” without identifying the cocoa percentage. Not that I’m a chocolate aficionado–I don’t really like eating pure chocolate–but I know that number is an important one.

The important thing, kids, is that I now have fresh food in the house for relatively little trouble.

How to Taste Wine Like an Amateur
Husband picked out a bottle of Estancia Cabernet Sauvignon from Keyes Canyon Ranches in Paso Robles (2004) on a whim a few nights ago from the grocery store (the regular, albeit high-end, establishment). It was a whole $9.99 and he doesn’t know why it caught his eye except that he was looking for a cabernet sauvignon and it had a sale sticker.

My country bumpkin palate says wow. Just wow. I don’t know what words to use at all, but it was much thicker than the past few reds I’ve had. Viscous probably isn’t the term; I want to say “full-bodied” but fear that is supposed to describe the integration of flavors. I can’t even pretend to have guessed any because they don’t list them on the back of the label. Fortunately, the winemaker listed them for wine brokers online:

Appearance: Deep garnet with crimson hues

Aroma: Effusive black cherry, Dutch chocolate and currant complement the spicy, peppery notes and hints of toasted sweet oak

Flavor: Opulent dark fruit, soft velvety tannins, followed with a long, rich finish

It was a crapshoot and we rolled a seven. You just can’t beat toasted sweet oak. ())-|

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  • Summer  On August 16, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Easy, yes. Fresh, be sure to check. I have seen a lot of items on their shelves past the sell by date. Although I think that Fresh n Easy is a bit overrated, the fajitas are pretty good. $6 for cut up/marinated meat and veggies that serves 3 isn’t bad if I’m in a hurry (or lazy). The mango pudding is odd. :) S.

  • aepiztman  On August 17, 2008 at 6:09 pm

    I love fresh and easy! Oh, by the way it is not a drink holder but a place to put your bunches of flowers so they don’t get crushed in the basket. I have never seen a product past it’s expiration date. The reason, all the fresh products that expire that day get a today’s special sticker that takes 50% off the regular price. I like many people shop specifcally for those products and plan my dinner around it. I’ll even buy and freeze the meat. During 4th of July, they sold these grill packs 5 lbs. of meat for 5$. 4 hambutger patties, 8 pieces of chicken and 4 italian sausages for $5!!!. If there are any left on it’s expiration date, it’s $2.50. FREEZE, FREEZE FREEZE!!!

  • Aimee  On August 24, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Huh. I’ve been wanting to try Fresh and Easy, but I think mine ARE located in ghetto locations–this is LA, after all. Still, I might brave it at least once. But we’ve had a Korean market called “Freshia” that I’ve been wanting to try, and I can’t even get around to that, so who knows on this end. Nice review.

  • britlad  On September 2, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    As a Brit and former avid customer of Tesco, now living in LA, I was really excited about them coming to SoCal. What a disappointment! Firstly I think the name sounds too much like a certain type of girl from school days.
    While I understand it probably wouldn’t benefit them to stock the british products I miss like chocolate digestives, I found the stores not only lacking in choice and the bargains that the UK ones have but totally lacking in personality too.
    They look unfinished, even the floors have cracks in them!
    I think they should have a more local flavor and definitely need a makeover.
    I like the fact that they give me a 25% off coupon every time I shop there but that smacks a little of desperation.
    If I was in charge, in addition to more brit products, I would stock more veggie items too and make the stores look less spartan and down market. I hope they fix what’s going wrong and survive but I have my doubts.

  • Karen  On September 2, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I agree that the store didn’t look quite finished, although the floors and fixtures were intact. Maybe the ceiling was too high, and the space above kind of empty, making it seem like it wasn’t quite ready yet. And no one offered me any 25% off coupon!

    I haven’t been back, just because it was sort of forgettable. When I run out of soda and whole wheat pasta, I may make another run. I kinda liked those flatbread pizza crusts, too. It’s just that there’s a fancy grocery store less than a mile from my home, with floors so beautiful I would have them installed in my own kitchen.

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