Despite the troubled economy, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market (F&E) has opened a total of 116 stores in California, Arizona, and Nevada since its November 2007 launch. The business, as well as its messaging, is focused on the core values of providing wholesome, affordable food and being a good neighbor and employer.
“Because we're a neighborhood market, we've taken a grassroots approach,” says Roberto Munoz, director of neighborhood affairs and communications at F&E. “PR... is one of the centers of our strategy. We're building the business around our [core values], and we focus communication around [them]. We're not communicating different messages to different people.”
F&E is owned by Tesco, a 90-year-old UK-based grocer/retailer that has nearly 4,000 stores in 14 markets. The antithesis of the “superstore” concept, F&E is a network of small neighborhood markets that pull customers from a three-mile radius.
Community commitment is central to the brand. Munoz strives to develop outreach programs for specific neighborhoods that also work in a “scalable way” as the company expands. For example, before a store opens, the community is invited to nominate local charitable organizations (online at freshandeasy.com) to receive a $1,000 donation from F&E on opening day.
“Shop for Schools” is a pilot program launched February 1 that allows K-12 schools within a three-mile radius of stores to collect receipts and receive a $1 donation (to spend how they like) for every $20 spent. Munoz says the program has garnered “a ton” of local, state, and regional press, and F&E will evaluate how well it worked at the end of March.
Social media helps raise awareness with customers and the media. CMO Simon Uwins runs a blog on freshandeasy.com that Munoz says has a following among journalists. A January blog post announced that F&E was using Twitter to communicate, and the UK's Telegraph ran a story.
“People... then Tweeted about [the story],” Munoz says. “That it bounced back to the US shows the way in which [people] get news and communicate is evolving and changing.”
As of March 19, F&E had close to 2,000 followers and updated the account nearly 400 times. Topics discussed include products, store openings, and the company's green efforts. Munoz says linking and sharing information between the blog and Twitter helps drive traffic to both.
“Neighborhood News” newsletters are available in-store, on the Web site, and are sent to other businesses in the neighborhood.
He adds that everyone in the company has a hand in developing the brand. Executives update employees via weekly meetings that are broadcast live from the El Segundo, CA, headquarters. Webcasts of the meetings are also posted on the intranet.
Additionally, the company holds “city meetings,” where the executive board meets with employees gathered in each market to discuss the business in four-hour forums.
“[Employees] come with green face paint and green hair – it's like a pep rally,” Munoz explains. “People... feel a part of something. Our CEO hands out his e-mail at every meeting, and he addresses every [e-mail he gets].”
F&E's internal team works with four agencies, all of which meet quarterly to brainstorm and share best practices.
RLPR handles F&E's consumer and general market media and provides counsel and execution in Hispanic markets.
F&E also works with APCO Worldwide, which does digital work, as well as crisis and corporate communications. Leader Enterprises works on store openings, and Deutsch handles advertising.
In the past decade or so, Tesco has expanded significantly in product and service offerings and global markets. F&E is Tesco's first US foray, and it shows no signs of stalling. Though F&E won't report the total number of stores planned, Munoz confirms 40 new stores are coming in California. “We're opening stores... and we're hiring every month,” he adds.
At a glance
Company: Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market
President/CEO: Tim Mason
Headquarters: El Segundo, CA
Key Trade Titles: Supermarket News, Planet Retail
Comms Budget: Undisclosed
Marcomms Team (Internal): Roberto Munoz, director, neighborhood affairs and communications; Stephanie Patryla, PR coordinator; Simon Uwins, chief marketing officer; Gary Turner, marketing manager