Add Chicago to the list of U.S. cities Tesco is scouting for its new 10,000-square-foot grocery store concept, Fresh & Easy, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday. The British retail giant hasn't removed its foot from the accelerator since Fresh & Easy's debut outside Los Angeles three months ago, opening 43 outlets in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Fresh & Easy bodes well for seafood sales simply because it represents a new avenue to sell the protein. But did Tesco put enough gas in its tank to market seafood properly?
Make no mistake, Fresh & Easy's expansion plans are aggressive. Tesco has already identified a total of 122 sites in the Southwest and pledged to invest $2 billion over five years on the venture. One retail research and consulting firm projects Tesco's U.S. sales to reach $4 billion, with 500 stores, in 2011 and $10 billion by 2015.
Tesco is able to grow Fresh & Easy quickly due to its size and bare-bones approach. It's far easier to staff and find real estate for a 10,000-square-foot store than a 40,000-square-foot supermarket.
But when it comes to marketing seafood, Fresh & Easy's no-frills strategy may be its biggest downfall. The concept's seafood department, which offers numerous packaged seafood products, including Atlantic salmon, tilapia and shrimp, is self-service. There's no staff to offer cooking tips and recipes, put the methylmercury-in-fish scare in perspective or push up-and-coming species.
Seafood is increasingly expensive and thus requires more maintenance than other proteins to handle and market. Fresh & Easy is filling a virtually vacant niche in the United States: small-format, convenience-focused grocery stores. But to grow seafood sales in the long term, retailers must adequately staff their seafood departments with knowledgeable employees.
Check out the "Small Wonder" Top Story in our March issue, which will be available at the International Boston Seafood Show later this month, for an in-depth look at the Fresh & Easy concept.