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Is Fresh & Easy
Departing From Private Label?

In our extensive coverage of Tesco’s adventures in America through its Fresh & Easy format, we have often pointed out the untenable nature of its produce operation.

By electing to go 100% private label, it denied consumers the brands they were familiar with, and by repacking everything and demanding unusual specifications, it was both undermining its sustainability credentials and significantly driving up costs for no purpose.

For several months now, we’ve seen occasional appearances of items in shipper brands, particularly in the section reserved for good deals.

Then all the sudden we got word that Doug Dobbs, formerly Director of Customer Service and Logistics at Dole and now a Managing Board Director and VP of Supply Chain Management at Wild Rocket, Fresh & Easy’s British transplanted produce supplier, was shaking up the place and actively soliciting quotes in normal shipper cartons and labels.

Now his efforts are really starting to show up in the stores. One local produce guy sent this quick note:

Just a heads up: I have been seeing more branded items at Fresh & Easy. This AM: Bolthouse 1# carrots, Earthbound 1# organic baby carrots, Earthbound 1# organic carrots, Earthbound 3 pack organic snack baby carrots, Andrew & Williamson Baja Classic 6 pack of Roma tomatoes, Ocean Mist 5.5 oz green onions, 5# bag Non Pareil Idaho russet potatoes, 3 pack CMI gala apples, and 1# black seedless grapes.

Still a lot of out-of-stocks and many inventory control issues.

Having recently returned from the UK where the efforts of Tesco to position itself as the value leader were extensive, we have to believe that this business of buying product from the best producers in the world and then rewrapping it has attracted attention from those looking to focus on value.

We continue, however, to hear of vendors who have walked away from “category captain” status with Fresh & Easy. The low volume is part of the problem but many report unhappiness not with Tesco but with Wild Rocket.

These complaints range from allegations of slow pay to clipping of bills and a failure to protect category exclusivity.

Most of the top vendors are used to working directly with retailers and find an intermediary at best an annoyance.

Of course, if Fresh & Easy is moving to accept shipper packaging and brands, one wonders if Ready Pac, virtually down the block from Fresh & Easy headquarters, couldn’t do the fresh-cuts. Of course, wouldn’t a switch to shipper brands and outside processing turn Wild Rocket into just a procurement and drayage company? How long before Tesco decides it should just have its own buyers?

If private label produce was a mistake, was there really a need to import Wild Rocket at all?

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