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Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Has a Recall;Sanctimonious Claims to Merit Consumer Trust Called Into Question

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 12, 2009

We have extensively covered Tesco’s Fresh & Easy since before its journey to America even started. We’ve mentioned that the company managed to alienate a big part of the supply base, by, for example, contemptuously refusing to join the produce trade associations such as PMA, United Fresh and the Fresh Produce and Floral Council despite it being the American custom to do so.

We also referenced industry members who saw the original Tesco/Fresh & Easy team as incredibly arrogant:

I think one reason everyone is so interested in Tesco’s adventures is because of the way they treated the potential US suppliers and the market place.

When suppliers were interviewed, there was a level of arrogance and bullying that most of us hadn’t seen since we were on the playground in grammar school.

Most people don’t want to see that type of treatment rewarded with success.

Tesco is going to spend a lot of money to find out the fresh industry may not be the most sophisticated bunch, but we do know a little bit about how our industry works.

Many retailers have told us they found the whole manner of presentation incredibly tendentious. For example, from the beginning Tesco and Fresh & Easy have tried to imply that its products are superior to those offered by American retailers. Here is a quote from a Fresh & Easy executive before the first store even opened:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
great food you can trust

…Our aim is to make fresh, high quality food affordable and accessible to everyone, because that’s what people told us they wanted. Said quickly, it sounds simple, but as ever, it’s all in the doing.

For a start, we’re being very thoughtful about the way we source, develop and distribute our own brand products. For example, we have a team of technical managers working with our suppliers to ensure that all our own brand products have no added transfats, no artificial colors or flavors, and only use artificial preservatives where they’re absolutely essential or traditionally part of the product. And we’re designing a supply chain to ensure that as little time as possible is used up in the distribution of fresh products, leaving the product much fresher instore…

Now to an attentive reader this always sounded like blowing smoke. Only use preservatives when “absolutely essential” or “traditionally part of the product” — now when might preservatives be absolutely essential? When you want to preserve something perhaps? It has been this kind of obfuscating double-talk that has alienated the company from competitive retailers as well.

Fresh & Easy executives continued speaking in this vein:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
strawberry jamming at fresh& easy


Today at fresh&easy was one of those great days that will stay with me for a long, long time. We saw our very first fresh&easy product, packed and ready to eat.

Why a picture of strawberries?

It was a strawberry jam.

Not just any strawberry jam, but one made using only fresh strawberries from California, and we’ll be offering it at a great price.

Apologies for being a little excited, but great food you can trust at prices everyone can afford just became a giant step closer to reality.

Look at the arrogance of this statement: “Food you can trust at prices everyone can afford just became a giant step closer to reality.” Clearly the Tesco/Fresh & Easy executives were saying that most American retailers — those that sold food “you can afford” — were selling food that Americans could not trust. As if we poor benighted Americans needed a British supermarket chain to come here and show us how to do it right.

And this tone has not diminished even as it has become perfectly clear that Fresh & Easy is a colossal failure. In its recent newsletter, Tesco’s Fresh & Easy headlines its newsletter:

Budget prices. Quality you can trust. Why compromise?

Once again, Tesco highlights this idea that you can “trust” Tesco’s Fresh & Easy as opposed, one supposes, to American retailers whose product cannot be trusted.

Yet, as we suspected from the beginning, it is all hyperbole, smoke and mirrors. The latest case in point is seen in this recall notice:

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Voluntarily Recalls Fresh & Easy Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters, Chewy Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, and Chewy Sweet & Salty Granola Bars Because of Possible Health Risk

Product may be returned to Fresh & Easy for full refund; no illnesses have been reported

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — February 26, 2009 — EL SEGUNDO, CA — In response to the investigations of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) and its Texas facility, which has now been linked to the Salmonella recall, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc., is voluntarily recalling all date codes of fresh&easy™ Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters, Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

As a precaution, Fresh & Easy originally removed these products from sale in January. These are the only Fresh & Easy products affected and they have not been directly linked to the salmonella outbreak, and there have been no illnesses reported.

Product Description

Barcode

Dates Affected

fresh&easy™ Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters 8oz container

5051379001292

All Date Codes

fresh&easy™ Chewy Sweet & Salty Granola Bars 6count/7.4oz carton

5051379001407

All Date Codes

fresh&easy™ Chewy Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars 6count/7.4oz carton

5051379001384

All Date Codes


The recalled products were sold in Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores located in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Customers may return the product to Fresh & Easy for a full refund. Consumers who have questions or concerns about this recall should contact the Fresh & Easy 24-hour toll free number 1 (800) 648-8622.

Now we don’t particularly fault Fresh & Easy for getting caught up in this Peanut Corporation of America recall; most US retailers did. We fault them for being sanctimonious.

The mighty Tesco didn’t send its crack food safety squad down to vet the plant or if it did, they found no more than anyone else.

As we pointed out in our piece entitled Lessons From The Peanut Salmonella Outbreak: Audit System Broken the auditor that Peanut Corporation of America used offered a Gold Standard Certification Program that the company did not have. Which means that for all its talk, Tesco did not even require its ingredient suppliers to have the top third-party audit for whatever auditor it used.

None of this is shocking, not even surprising… in fact it is, dare we say it — just like the Americans. No more worthy of “trust” than anyone else.

There are two things about this release that make us ask if it is not possible that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy has actually been putting its own commercial interests ahead of the health and safety of its consumers.

First, note that the release is dated February 26, 2009. Yet it states clearly that “…fresh & easy originally removed these products from sale in January.” If there was enough possibility that these products could have led consumers to get infected with Salmonella, a condition from which people can die, wouldn’t a decent concern for the well being of one’s customers demand an immediate notification and recall? After all, people could have them in their homes and be snacking away. On what basis would Tesco’s Fresh & Easy feel morally justified in not telling these people of a possible risk?

Second, although the product was removed from the shelves in January and a recall issued February 26, 2009, a review of the front page of the Fresh & Easy website at 12:21 AM on March 12, 2009 shows not a mention of this problem. Now if one is looking for the information, then if one clicks on Newsroom, then Press Releases and then February 2009, one can find a link that says Fresh & Easy Voluntarily Recalls Three Products dated February 26, 2009. Yet, quite conveniently, a horrible “mistake” was made. When one clicks on the link, one sees this: A press release on Fresh & Easy’s UV sanitation machine diverting product from a landfill!

Was that an error? Maybe, although all the other press releases seem correct. In any case, this company, so focused on trust, is certainly not going out of its way to make sure consumers know to not eat that product, not even thinking it worthy of a front page mention on its web site.

Does this make them uniquely malicious? No, in fact we reported similar issues with Yum! Brands during one of its food safety challenges.

But the bottom line is Tesco put its Fresh & Easy brand on product with no more attention to ingredient quality than many American companies. That is not uniquely evil but it is quite unexceptional. A reputation for something beyond American quality will not be earned with just clever PR.

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