When will Tesco dump Fresh & Easy and pull out of the US? The answer lies in North London spinach

Embattled Tesco CEO Philip Clarke (and he’s only been in the job for a year) told shareholders in Cardiff the other day that the giant UK retailer might scrap its Fresh & Easy convenience store venture in the US.

“If we see there is no chance of success, we’ll do as we’ve just done in Japan,” Clarke said, referring to Tesco’s deal this month to exit that market. “It is not about ego, we are businessmen.” Fresh & Easy, on America’s West Coast, has lost about £340m in the past two years.

The other day, lured by a wad full of Tesco money-off coupons, we ventured to a big Tesco store on North London’s Colney Hatch Lane. Was the shopping experience markedly better than it had been the last time, about the time Clarke promised to invest heavily in his UK stores to bring them back up to scratch? No.

Then came the case of the pre-packed ‘baby leaf’ spinach, bought on the same trip (yes, I know I should have gone to a proper greengrocer). After two days in the fridge this had gone rotten because it was soaking wet, as it clearly had been when it was packed. Now you don’t get this at Waitrose or Sainsbury’s, which I know about, and probably not at Asda or Morrisons, which I don’t.

And if you can’t organise a bag of dry spinach (a tiny one selling for over a quid) then you have absolutely no chance in running a store chain on the West Coast (where there used to be loads of money but isn’t now) majoring on freshness and quality.

So Clarke needs to cut his empire down to size before it does just that to him.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.