Saturday, September 12, 2009

Visit to the Holy Land: F&E Headquarters

The pilgrimage is now completed. I have been given a tour of Fresh & Easy headquarters by Simon Uwins and his team, Roberto and Stephanie. Elizabeth of LAMomBlog and TradedmyBMWfoaMinivan and Lindsay of LAist were also there.

Fresh & Easy
- Photo courtesy of Fresh & Easy

We visited the wine tasting room. (But no wine for us...dang...) We poked our heads into their test kitchens. We got to see the staff "lunch room" which was more like a small cafeteria where they would hold a monthly video conference update between the HQ and the Riverside distribution center.

Naturally, we dined on F&E grubs in Simon's office and talked about all sorts of things before we head over to the El Segundo store for a tour of things to come and all the new products. And for me to revisit my swan dive moment... /shudder.

Anyways. Why were we there at F&E HQ?

A LOT of changes are coming your way, Believers. And it looks to be a good thing.

Fresh & Easy

Simon started to mention it here on the F&E blog about how some things have disappeared to be replaced by other things, adjusting to what the customers are saying.

Yeah, how DARE you take away my Belgian Chocolate Mousse...but then again, you did give me the Banana Cream Pie... Sorry. Digression.

And there are more changes to come. For example, in a couple of weeks, F&E is going to launch their ad campaign. You'll see some bus shelter signs and billboards and signage in the store. You will also hear customer's testimony on the radio along with the specials. The campaign will focus on how F&E is saving money in the stores and therefore is able to pass along the awesome price to the customers without sacrificing the quality. [ETA: Simon just blogged about it.] Like these guys here:

Fresh & Easy Fresh & Easy
- Both photos courtesy of Fresh & Easy

The radio spot actually got me and Lindsay giggling. After a customer testimonial, the announcer came on to say something like, "And thank YOU, Mike, for saving us some money [by not hiring an actor to do the ad]."

For example, how F&E stores are being energy efficient is not only good for the environment, but it's good for the bottom line. Energy savers like their LED-lit refrigerators and super energy efficient new slide-door freezers are saving on their electricity bills and therefore less cost to tag onto the F&E products.

Better care of the produce also plays in this. Simon pointed out the new banana display. So far we have to dive for the bananas from boxes on the shelves at F&E. And those suckers get bruised so easily and a lot went to waste. Not with the new soft display.

Simon said, "It cradles the fruits, reducing the bruising. You know, like a hammock."

Of course, I blurted out, "So it's a banana hammock..."

After he's done laughing, Roberto promised to send me a better picture of the "banana hammock" since the shelves were empty by the time we were at the store. Here it is.

Fresh & Easy
- Photo courtesy of Fresh & Easy

See? A multi-layer hammock...for the bananas... Alright. I'll stop.

Some of the products and shelves are being moved around and more signage is being put in in each aisle for easy navigation. Ice freezer is being moved to the front so you can finally run in, get some ice, and out you go before the thing melts.

To my dismay, I still find the magazine racks up a the register at the Manhattan Beach store. Then again, that store has more room than others to play with those things. So, I'll let that one go. For now.

Next, you may have noticed, started with the intro of Mother's Joy, that F&E is now carrying more products than just the F&E brand. It came down to what customers want, Simon told us.

So we have the good ol' reliable F&E brand stuff. Then the national brand. And the newly added, non F&E brand but F&E approved "generic" brand for those who want to stretch the budget a little bit further. If Mother's Joy cereals are any indication, F&E approved generics are pretty good.

Finally, all the new products in the store. Like the variety of rice, gluten-free pasta (my celiac suffering friend thanks you), and marinades.

Simon pointed out the F&E line of baby products which include baby wipes, shampoos, and bubble baths. Didn't know they had that line, did you? Neither did we.

Fresh & Easy

What got us girls excited was the new line of F&E beauty products called Retreat. I smelled just about everything on the shelf and decided that I would not be able to use the Mulberry hand cream because I would probably try to eat my hands in my sleep. It smells so darn tasty! I guess if the body scrub was a sugar scrub instead of salt, I might try to eat that too.

Fresh & Easy

We also asked some of the questions we're sure some of you might have.

For example, the new line of organic preserves that are coming out said on the label, made "California strawberries". However, when you looked at the back it says, "Product of Canada".

It goes back to finding the vendor who would do it at the right quality, Simon said. For the all-natural, no preservative preserves they want, it could only be done in Canada. So, yes, strawberries are CA grown but they are shipped north to get processed and get shipped back down.

That brought up the questions of where the produce came from. Whatever is in season locally is stocked in the store, Simon said. Of course, for examples, if the apples go out of season, being a grocery store, you can't just go without them and therefore they will have to be imported from elsewhere.

These methods don't sit right with some of you, I'm sure. What bothers me more is that, like the case of the preserves, there is no facility in California, let alone the USA, that could produce what F&E wanted for that price. And we wonder why all the jobs are going overseas. But that's a major digression to a completely different place so, I'll shut up now.

A lot of information being passed back and forth between us bloggers and Simon and his team. All in all, it was a very interesting and informative evening, full of discoveries and exciting things to come!


Amy Lamare said...

I'm sad that my fav chicken seems to have gone away but I am finding some DELICIOUS new products too!

Annette said...

Hey, I bought those bananas from the hammock! Awesome you got to tour the place.

Mimi said...

I miss the chocolate banana cake!