Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fresh & Easy - Trouble for Trader Joe's?

Sorry for my delay in posting. It's been a flurry of activity this October.

First, an interesting little review of the unassailable Father's Office burger. The most notable quote here is "When you have meat of this quality it should be served as a steak or at least a steak sandwich."

I can't agree more. A burger is a fucking burger. It's ground up and flavored and just, well, it's just not the best showcase for top quality product. That's where burgers came from, a chance to extend and improve mediocre or questionable meat. A spicy tuna roll is made from the mediocre scrapings of tuna mixed with a spicy sauce to mask its shitiness. You wouldn't make spicy tuna from o-toro. Basic chuck is all that you need for a good burger. Anything else is a waste of quality meat. Kobe burger? What the fuck! Hell, a sirloin burger is retarded. All that these products do is allow us to indulge in the exotic and/or conspicuously consumable under the protective layer of easily accessible food. It's like putting foie gras on a burger or caviar on a pizza. It's just silly. These things are best on their own. Great beef is best seared rare with a little salt and pepper. That's the point. That's what cows die for.

Moving on.

I'd heard of these markets called "Fresh & Easy" but had yet to visit one. Fresh & Easy is Tesco's attempt to enter the U.S. market. If you don't know Tesco, then you're one of the many Americans who doesn't realize that there are many many multinational corporations that aren't based in the United States. Tesco is the world's fourth largest retailer, being a major supermarket chain in Britain and having a significant presence throughout Europe.

Fresh & Easy launched last year in Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada. They took an interesting approach. Rather than launching flagship stores in major cities, Fresh & Easy slipped its way in to the country in the sprawling suburbs of Orange, San Diego, Riverside, Imperial, and southern Los Angeles counties. Even now, stores are barely present north of Manhattan Beach. Hell, its first store was in Hemet and if you didn't have to look up Hemet on the internet when you heard that you're a better man than me.

I found myself on a semi-spontaneous road trip east on I-10 with girlfriend Charlie to the desert town of Indio and in so doing found myself stumbling into what I've decided is my new favorite grocery store, Fresh & Easy.

It is unfortunate that I have to drive through the shitbox that is the Inland Empire to get to California's Desert Cities. The desert is a stunningly weird and beautiful place and the only thing keeping me from visiting it more is that ninety minutes of driving through continuous sprawl. We passed six Targets. Six! And that's just what was visible from the freeway.

Fresh & Easy sort of floats in a void of its own. It's way smaller and cheaper than Whole Foods but decently bigger and more comprehensive than Trader Joe's (and in some instances cheaper). Like both those places, Fresh & Easy offers a large selection of premade and semi-prepared foods, but is much less reliant on the freezer section. I dig this. I like fresh pre-made stuff, but not so much frozen/canned. I think this is a perfect match for what busy young families and professionals want. I love to cook. I like to cook from scratch if I can. That being said if I can compliment my meal with a pretty tasty fresh pre-made side of creamed spinach for $1.50, why not? Plus, Fresh & Easy sells food of this type in quantities that can reasonably be consumed by two adults in the course of a meal, as opposed to Trader Joe's which sells food in quantities that're way too much for one but not enough for two.

Fresh & Easy offers a large organic selection while not making it the focus of their operations. It also offers largely store-branded items coupled with some specifically selected name-brand products (much like Trader Joe's).

The most interesting thing that I found about Fresh & Easy is that they openly sell their late-dated products at a discount. What was once the bastion of grocery outlets can now be purchased in the store in which it was intended. And you can get a helluva a deal on food that's still quite fresh. Basically, Fresh & Easy has a section where food a day or two away from its sell-by date is sold for 50% or more less than its retail price. It's still perfectly fine, it just can't sit in a fridge for a week before you eat it.

I like this a lot as it presents some great money-saving options for people who are buying dinner for that evening. Basically, it encourages frequent shopping for fresh food.

The last very cool thing about Fresh & Easy is that they're opening stores in "food deserts." They're becoming the only retailer in neighborhoods devoid of quality grocery stores, including Compton and Glassell Park in Los Angeles and (soon) Bayview/Hunter's Point and East Oakland in the SF area. When you present fresh, wholesome, unpretentious food at very good prices in neighborhoods underserved by quality retailers, you're helping the world in readily appreciable ways.

So find the Fresh & Easy nearest you (it's probably Manhattan Beach) and shop. Shop I say!

P.S. The Salton Sea is fucking creepy as hell. It's like a giant meth lab full of pelicans. I highly recommend a visit.

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