The Fresh & Easy grocery chain is unloading its U.S. stores, including five in greater Sacramento, its parent company announced today.
The announcement marks the end of British grocery conglomerate Tesco's effort to grab market share in the Western United States.
Tesco planned to open 17 stores in the Sacramento area but never got beyond the five stores that opened last spring. The company opened a total of 200 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada in the past few years.
Fresh & Easy, with its small-store format, was part of a wave of competition that moved into Northern California in recent years, causing fits for traditional grocers such as Raley's and Safeway. But the most serious competition has been from big-store chains such as Wal-Mart, whose success in this region was a direct contributor to last winter's strike at Raley's.
Tesco announced months ago it was conducting a "strategic review" of Fresh & Easy. The British company's chief financial officer said on a conference call today that it has received "a lot of interest" from potential buyers, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Bob Reynolds, a Bay Area supermarket consultant, said Fresh & Easy's small stores made little headway against the big grocers. "Consumers want to do all their shopping in one place," he said.
But he had no doubt that a buyer would try to succeed where Fresh & Easy failed. "There's always somebody new coming in," he said.