A revitalised Fresh & Easy looks like the latest competitor to challenge Whole Foods Market, Inc. which is ramping up its value efforts in produce and fresh by adding more “high-grade” conventional offerings alongside organic products due to more competition in the natural and organic space.
Supermarket magnate Ron Burkle of private equity firm Yucaipa Cos took control of the Fresh & Easy the chain from British retail giant Tesco last year. The deal included 167 of 200 stores, as well as distribution and manufacturing facilities in Riverside, California.
Wild Oats, a popular line of organic and natural foods missing from shelves since 2007, is making a comeback at Fresh & Easy stores. The 110-store Wild Oats chain was sold to Whole Foods Market in 2007.
“We are piloting a handful of fresh products from our partners at Wild Oats,” company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said. “We’re excited to be bringing back Wild Oats to make better-for-you products more available and affordable for our customers.”
Cage-free eggs and four types of organic milk branded with the “Wild Oats Marketplace” label landed in the dairy section of 167 stores, including 102 locations in Southern California. Brown eggs boast “Just Laid” stickers on cartons and “hen laying” date stamps on each egg. The move comes as more consumers demand transparency on food origin and animal welfare from grocers.
Supermarket analyst Jim Hertel of Willard Bishop said the return of Wild Oats is not surprising. “The strong rumor six months ago was that they’d re-brand the (Fresh & Easy) stores (as) Wild Oats,” said Hertel.
Adding products that have “consumer cachet” like Wild Oats is a smart strategy for Fresh & Easy, he added. “That could work to lure more foot traffic to stores.”
“Since the recession, we have focused on improving our price competitiveness, primarily within our grocery departments,” said Walter Robb, WFM co-chief executive officer, during a Feb. 12 earnings call with analysts.
“We are now expanding our successful value efforts into our perishable areas as well. We are continuing to maintain our high-quality standards, which clearly differentiate us from our competitors, while broadening our selection to include more value.”