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Fresh & Easy Opens to Crowds, Long Lines

British grocer opens in Clayton Valley Shopping Center two years later than expected, bringing affordable organic food to Concord and Clayton border.

Fresh & Easy Opens to Crowds, Long Lines

The British grocery chain Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market opened a store Wednesday in Concord, bringing with it long queues and crowds jamming the aisles for its organic and unique food that make it look like a cross between Safeway and Trader Joe's.

My daughter and I braved the afternoon crowd at the grand opening in the at 5410 Ygnacio Valley Road, taking a walk around and viewing the selection before leaving without getting in the daunting line that snaked down the front wall to the end of the store. There were at least 25 people in line, and an employee told me not to be intimidated by the long line, which he said had about a 10-minute wait. 

Without taking anything home to eat, it's difficult to know if the food is tasty enough for a return visit. But from what I saw, the selection was large enough to get a week's worth of grocery shopping done if necessary, although it was more suited for a few meals at a time since there are so many fresh items and prepared meals.

Owned by England-based Tesco, the grocer also has a store in Danville and is opening one in Walnut Creek on March 23. The company announced in January 2008 that it would open 18 stores in the Bay Area, but the recession hit and the Concord store didn't open until now.

About 60 percent of a typical Fresh & Easy's items are its private label, which puts it in competition with the Trader Joe's label and its brand of unique items. There are also plenty of staples, giving it a feel of a Safeway or larger grocery chain.

Judging from fliers I was handed as I walked in the store, the company prides itself on buying locally and having stores that are energy efficient. It says its energy use is 30 percent less than the typical supermarket, including 45 percent less energy use by keeping lids on the freezers and 10 percent less on electricity to run its refrigerators.

Because the store seems tight, it's probably best that it doesn't have displays at the end of aisles to highlight store products. The store also claims to have lower prices by cutting costs in its flooring, with concrete floors that are cheaper and easier to clean than tile.

On the food side, the company says its eggs come from cage-free chickens (a good thing for my family since we buy ours at the Concord Farmer's Market), and no artificial colors, flavors, added trans fats or high-frutcose corn syrup are in any Fresh & Easy brand product.

The prices looked good, although it was hard to tell with so many people crowding the aisles Wednesday. It advertises 98-cent produce packs to help people eat better, and its sales on produce, meat and ready-made kitchen meals looked good enough to try.

Like any new store, shoppers will have to go there a few times to find what they like and prefer over other grocery stores they frequent. There are certain things at Trader Joe's that I'm almost addicted to, and I suspect the same will be true for Fresh & Easy in time.

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