Monday, June 9, 2008

Supermarket Shopping Sans Soul

Forgive the Militant for being a late bloomer, but he had the sudden urge to check out the Hollywood Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (and the chain itself) for the first time this weekend.

He took a quick Metro trip (the Militant will tell ya, having a monthly TAP card does wonders) over to Hollywood and Highland and two blocks later he descended the stairs down to UK supermarket giant Tesco's little experiment across the pond.

It certainly looks and feels different than a usual supermarket. Meant to be smaller in size, everything looked rather bland and uniform. Everything can be summed up into about 4 or 5 colors.

The weirdest part were the aisles; everything was uniformly placed into very-alike looking packages (pictured left). Surveillance camera pods hung overhead. Were they going for the Orwellian thing here? Double plus ungood.

But oh the prices! $1.99 for a pound of strawberries? Into the basket you go. Twice! Also got a container of sliced pineapples. Blue corn tortilla chips for 99 cents? Hola! Same goes for the bag of granola clusters...French Vanilla and Almond? Oui! And just for shitsandgiggles, a bag of F&E's white cheese puffs, which inevitably have to have a pirate-themed name which references the original product.

Checking out was...a lot like Home Depot. They had those self-service checkout counters (pictured right), which unlike most markets, are the rule here rather the exception. But boo on F&E for more annoying plastic bags (yes, the Militant forgot his reusable bag...) rather than having a paper option (which he loves for sticking junk mail and newspapers before going into Le Bleu Bin.

Many people have indeed drawn up the comparison between F&E and the Native Southern Californian Trader Joe's. The Militant will tell ya, THERE IS NO COMPARISON (well, except maybe for some produce prices...). TJ's has humor, personality, character...and Fearless Flyers. They also got free samples (The Militant has heard of free samples at F&E but they weren't there when the Militant came by...) and wonderfully-decorated locally-themed stores that exude community pride and flavor. And TJ's doesn't look as sterile and bland as a pharmaceutical lab. And did the Militant mention TJ's is a native Southern California product? Oh yeah, he did, but he just wants to stress it again for all those East Coast people who think TJ's originated out there (and who might be predictably inclined to think the SoCal TJs are inherently inferior to the ones "Back East," lol).

Fresh & Easy is alright, but they've been having trouble establishing market share for obvious reasons. Still, to their credit, it was interesting to see a chain supermarket in Los Angeles without an obvious parking lot, as the majority of F&E customers (at least here in Hollywood) make relatively small purchases on foot. But then, what other F&E anywhere can give you the experience of walking through the tourist/street entertainment mayhem that is Hollywood between Orange and Highland? Though a tired, cliched scene, it brought a smile to the Militant's face as he schlepped his two (plastic, damn them) grocery bags down to the Red Line station.


jeffro said...

The Eagle Rock Blvd F&E is right up the street from me. My 1st time there I had the same impression as you. I've gone straight to TJ's from F&E to finish my shopping which basically effects culture shock. TJ's is just fun, even when it's too crowded. F&E gets the job done, but it ain't enjoyable.

Funny, I thought you'd mention that everything at F&E is individually wrapped. Pretty sure that's a function of the self-checkout system. Probably the same reason they don't have paper bags.

Speaking of which, I know they aren't as convenient as paper bags for storing recyclables (b/c they don't hold their shape) but you can make do with them. You know they're recyclable, right? Damn near everything goes in le bleu bin these days. Even styrofoam. wtf?

Militant Angeleno said...

Jeffro Tull: Yes, the reason why damn near everything goes in Le Bleu Bin these days has to do mainly with ri$ing petroleum prices: It's now cheaper to recycle most plastics than to fabricate new plastic products.

As for the plastic bags in the F&E checkout: He spent such a long time trying to get the damn plastic bags open that the checkout screen prompted him, "Continue This Purchase? Yes / No"

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you've every heard of a blog called "Brand New" but it talks about corporate redesigns. There was a pretty interesting write-up about the F&E some time ago which some might find interesting...

... okay, so I find it interesting, as a graphic design nerd. But who knows? Anyway, here's the link if anyone is interested:

Fresh & Easy & Not Much Else

Li said...

F&E may be bland and generic, but I'd love it if we got one downtown. (I'd love it better if we got a TJ's, but I can't see that happening).

Militant Angeleno said...

Li: How 'bout F&E in City West, and TJs in the Historic Core?

narinda said...

I am glad that you mentioned that F&E is another incarnation of Tesco's, which means it's more like Ralph's Fresh Fare than like a Trader Joe's.

But they have fabulous coffee ice cream.

I like your blog.

Li said...

"Li: How 'bout F&E in City West, and TJs in the Historic Core?"

From your lips to (deity of your choice)'s ears.

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Excellent review. We publish an independent blog, Fresh & Easy Buzz, all about Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market venture and related topics.

Have written a brief piece about your review and blog--with a link to your blog.

The piece and link are currently at the top of Fresh & Easy Buzz.


Anonymous said...

My first impression of F&E was also quite gloomy -- but now I am impressed and think all TJ lovers should give it a try.

The aisles are quite wide and gray but as soon as the place fills up with customers it is quite the relief to have a little space.

The place is comparable to TJ's but significantly cheaper, offers better quality vegetables, and product samples for most of the day.

I am frankly not a fan of the slow as molasses cashiers at TJ's so the self check out is a welcome alternative and is actually fun once you get the hang of it.

Finally, I find their plastic bags the best in the business. True, their bags are plastic but they are of a much better quality than the Von's and Ralph's variety. That means you can use them more than once. Paper bags are much worse for anyone who cares about the environment. First of all, the point of recycling is reducing waste and therefore it is counterproductive to use them to pack garbage. Second, they get ruined by water (e.g. any type of condensation) and are virtually useless for using on multiple occasions.

Don't mean to step on anyone's toes but I think F&E is a quantam leap forward in retailing and if they get enough customers will be a refreshing jolt to the status quo.

And BTW, Trader Joe's is also foreign owned by Germany's richest family.

Anonymous said...

F&E may lack character but that can change. F&E has great products all around, and has the best prepared meals. Has anyone tried them? Also, their produce lasts in the refrigerator for days, and it tastes better. Prices are incredible, and it is easy to pay at the cashier once you learn how to. Their locations may not be convenient at times, but that can change too, and a trip there is definetly worth your time. Enjoy!

Militant Angeleno said...

Anonymous 6/12/08 8:40 AM: Thanks. Nice to know that people from the Fresh & Easy Corporate Offices are reading the Militant Angeleno's blog!

Doña Junta said...

good looking out on the new store

Elsongs said...

Yo Militant Dude! I was there last night at the Hollywood Fresh & Easy and I rode the Red Line there just like you did. I missed my train and I got there right at 10 when one of the employees was ready to tell me through the glass that they were closed. I made this pleading pantomime gesture and she let me in after all. Your description was spot on though I give them credit for letting me in right at closing and even though the employees were doing inventory, none of them were sweating me to leave.

I agree it doesn't have as much soul as Trader Joe's but it's got its uses. I read an article that Barack Obama wrote the CEO of Tesco to make sure they would open Fresh & Easy in more underserved areas, and that can only be a goof thing.