Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Retail Marketing & Public Relations Memo: Was Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neigborhood Market 'Listening' to Our April 2 Memo?

NSFM Editors Note: Below is a Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market corporate press release distributed by PR Newswire. It just landed in our email box a couple minutes ago (April 8, 2008)

We suggest you read the press release which we've reproduced in its entirerty below. Then read our piece, "Retail Marketing & Public Relations Memo: What Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market 'Should' Be Doing Now," which we wrote six days ago on April 2, 2008, and have reproduced directly below the Tesco Fresh & Easy corporate press release. First the Fresh & Easy press release below:

Fresh & Easy to Give Away Free 'Bag For Life' For Earth Day

Grocer offers free reusable bags on April 22nd

EL SEGUNDO, Calif., April 8, 2008 /PRNewswire/ -- In celebration of Earth Day, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market today announced its 61 stores will bag groceries with free reusable "bags for life" for customers on April 22nd. The company encourages customers to reuse these bags and lessen their impact on the environment.

(Photo:
http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20080408/AQTU198.)

Fresh & Easy offers its customers two different types of reusable bags, including a $2.50 canvas bag and a plastic reusable "bag for life," which retails for $.20. The "bag for life" is larger and more durable than standard grocery bag and, if damaged, Fresh & Easy will replace the bag for free, forever. These bags are made with recycled material and are 100% recyclable.

"We want to make it easier for our customers to make more environmentally friendly decisions," said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy CEO. "If everyone in the neighborhood shops with reusable bags, we can really make a difference."

Fresh & Easy has made a considerable effort to be a good neighbor and steward of the environment. For example, the company only sells energy efficient light bulbs, uses LED lighting in external signs and freezer cases, offers plastic, aluminum and glass recycling, and provides preferred parking for hybrid vehicles.

More broadly, Fresh & Easy has committed to build LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings and voluntarily joined the California Climate Action Registry to disclose its greenhouse gas emissions. At its distribution center in Riverside the company invested $13 million in a solar roof installation, which is one of California's largest
at 500,000 sq. ft.

More information regarding Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market can be
found at
http://www.freshandeasy.com/.

###

Below is our April 2, 2008 piece. Please pay special attention to the text highlighted in green.

Retail Marketing & Public Relations Memo: What Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market 'Should' Be Doing Now.
By Natural~Specialty Foods Memo: April 2, 2008

Last week, Tesco Neighborhood Market chief marketing officer Simon Uwins posted in his corporate blog on the Fresh & Easy website that the small-format, convenience-oriented neighborhood grocery chain was taking a "pause" in its new store opening blitz, which has found Fresh & Easy opening 59 grocery stores in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada since November, 2007. [Read about the Fresh & Easy new store "pause" or "breather" here.]

Blogs such as Fresh & Easy Buzz were the first to report on Uwins' announcement, followed by a number of UK newspapers. The U.S. business press picked-up the story starting on Monday.

And yesterday and today numerous major newspapers and news services like the Associated Press the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and many others are running stories on the retailer's three month new store opening "pause." Blogs of all sorts are writing about the three month new store opening moratorium and store sales' underperformance issue as well.

Most of these news stories and features (and likely those to come the rest of this week) aren't positive for Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market retail venture in the USA. The new store opening "pause" is the story news peg in all of the pieces, along with reports like those we offered months ago that the 59 Fresh & Easy grocery markets opened to date are seriously underperforming in sales as compared to Tesco's internal sales targets.

Uwins and company should have better prepared for this fact, which any experienced U.S. marketer or PR professional should have known would happen. It can happen to anybody though.

The reason any professional with experience with the U.S. business press should have known how the news cycle would have played out is because of the nature of today's media. First, because the newspaper business in the U.S. is doing so poorly, newsroom budgets and staffing has been lean for the last five years or so. As a result, today's U.S. business and popular press is a reactive rather than investigative enterprise in the main.

Business reporters at America's newspapers--with some exceptions of course--tend to report and write stories based on press releases issued by corporations, or based often times on news reports they find in blogs and other alternative media sources.

For example, the business section reporters who are reporting on the Fresh & Easy "pause" yesterday and today didn't read it on Mr. Uwins' corporate blog--even though it was there for blogs like Fresh & Easy Buzz to find, which reported it last Saturday. Rather, they either discovered the news from that blog, or from the British newspapers which started reporting the story on Sunday and Monday.

As a result though, Mr. Uwins' corporate blog post--which we think was a good idea but not complete as we will explain shortly--offered a news peg for the U.S. business press to generate stories about Fresh & Easy, which hadn't been much in the news in the last month. Since the "news" is that Fresh & Easy is taking this new store opening breather, originally reported by the grocery chain's marketing chief, and that the stores have been underperforming for sometime, based on numerous reports, put the two together and you've got the news peg the publications' went with; and rightly so--it's what is news, especially in the absence of any follow-up prepared by Fresh & Easy.

Mr. Uwins and the Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market team should have been prepared for this news cycle however--and even used it to the grocery chains marketing advantage. And, based on the responses from a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market spokesman to the reporters in many of these stories, there hasn't been much preparation. His quotes to date have been on the order of: 'Things are going well, the stores aren't underperforming, we don't know where this data (the sales estimates) is coming from.'

Not good. Too boilerplate. Non-responsive. Sounds too much like spin. It's not the spokesman's fault either. He can only go with what he's provided with. It's not an easy roll.

What Uwins and company should have done before publishing the "pause" news in the corporate blog (a communication we agree with) was to be ready for the media before the post was made.

What do we mean by ready?

We suggest Uwins and company should have had three stories (news pegs) prepared and locked-and-loaded for the post "pause" announcement. Remember, today's business press, and even many bloggers, are a reactive lot in most ways.

We would have prepared three "news pegs" in the following areas:

First, we would have had one concrete change to be implemented in the Fresh & Easy stores. For example, a common complaint (which happens to be true) about the stores is that they aren't localized and customized enough to the demographics and character of the neighborhoods they are located in. We would have used this post-pause announcement period to announce a major initiative in which Fresh & Easy plans to start in May bringing in a substantial number of more local food and grocery products into its stores. Neighborhood-oriented merchandising.

For example, bringing in more Southern California-produced fresh produce and specialty products for its stores in that region. There are tons of such goods produced and marketed in the region. Additionally, how about a similar initiative for the Arizona Fresh & Easy grocery stores? An announcement that the grocer will stock many more Southwestern-style food and grocery products, produced in Arizona and New Mexico, in its stores. There are lots of those available as well.

Lastly, for both regions, and Nevada, an announcement that the small-format "neighborhood" grocery chain would be increasing the amount and variety of ethnic foods it merchandises in all 59 stores--Hispanic, Asian and other ethnic foods--based on the specific demographics of a given neighborhood. It's needed.

Such an announcement, say yesterday, would have generated lots of press, which in many cases would mean positive stories along with the more negative new store opening "pause" pieces. In some cases, such an announcement (local foods are big news in the U.S. right now) would have cut-short the "pause" story news cycle for the new "local foods initiative" cycle of stories.

But, if we were in charge we wouldn't have stopped there in our pre-publishing of the "pause" strategy, for the post-pause news cycle period.

April 22, just two weeks away, is Earth Day. Numerous grocery retailers, manufacturers and marketers are planning major Earth Day green marketing or green retailing promotions and activities for the day which celebrates the earth, conservation and environmental stewardship.

We haven't heard of any plans for Earth Day from Tesco's Fresh & Easy.

Our second, "locked-and-loaded" post-pause corporate blog post news peg would have been tied to Earth Day. For example, why not an announcement from Fresh & Easy that it plans to give away thousands of free, reusable, canvass grocery tote bags at its 59 stores on Earth Day.

Further, that as part of this give-away promotion, it will give one dollar for every free tote bag it gives away to shoppers to local environmental groups and charities in its market areas.

Green or environmental news from retailers is big news right now.

Or, the grocery chain could even go bolder. It could follow in the footsteps of Whole Foods Market, Inc.--which beginning on April 22 (Earth Day) will no longer offer single-use, free plastic grocery bags in its 270-plus stores in the U.S., Canada and England.

Fresh & Easy could announce it's decided to offer only paper grocery bags produced from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, along with reusable grocery tote bags in its U.S. stores. In fact, such an announcement would be even more powerful if it was done in conjunction with the free reusable tote bag scheme suggested earlier.

Either way, just doing one or both, we guarantee there would be a significant batch of news stories generated on the announcement in the U.S. media. [Just Google or Yahoo Search Whole Foods plastic grocery bags to get a flavor for what we are suggesting in terms of news coverage. Also, just wait until a few days before Earth Day for the Whole Foods plastic bag self-ban stories to come flowing in.]

Just as we mentioned above about the "local foods initiative" story, one or both of these Earth Day news pegs would result in considerable positive news coverage, along with the more negative "pause" and store sales underperformance stories currently all over the pages of newspaper business sections and in online editions. Further, just as with the "local food" news peg--and even more so because both that announcement and the Earth day one would be timed to be released fairly shortly apart--the "pause" and sales underperformance story news cycle would be shortened in our analysis, experience and opinion.

Lastly, we would have one more bullet in our "pre-pause" corporate blog post/"post-pause" post-publication strategic media arsenal. We might or we might not use it right away depending on the results of our above news pegs, by the way.

This third and last strategy would be to have Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason and his new, soon to be number two man, U.S.-born Jeff Adams who currently is the CEO of Tesco's Tesco Lotus retail division in Thailand, issue a joint-statement saying the retailer recognizes there are some sales underperformance and other format, operations, marketing and merchandising problems with the Fresh & Easy stores, which is why as CEO Mr. Mason ordered the new store opening "pause." [Mason hasn't issued a statement or said a word on the "pause" to date. Not a good communications strategy. Further, believe it or not, the press loves it when a CEO comes out and walks-the-walk and takes charge. It hurts a little at first. But starts to feel real good soon after.]

Further, in the statement, we would have CEO Mason state that in part this is why Adams, a U.S. native, has joined the senior executive team. That he's coming in, from his highly successful run as CEO of Tesco-Lotus, to provide a fresh mind (one that was formed in the U.S.) and a new set of eyes as Fresh & Easy enters a new phase, after the amazing task of opening 59 of the small-format basic grocery and fresh foods markets in a mere 150 or so days.

Further, in the statement Adams would offer his two-cents worth, not to mention talking about how happy he is to be returning to the USA, land of his birth, to be involved with what might just be one of the most interesting grocery grocery retailing ventures in the U.S. in the last five decades, which it is. This isn't spin, it's all factual--and real.

There's an old saying in politics and political campaigning: 'If you have a problem...hang a lantern on it.' We all know the converse: most corporations and politicians (and others) get in trouble not because they address an issue or mistake head-on, but rather because they deny it or even attempt to cover it up. Like its often said about Richard Nixon's Watergate fiasco: 'It wasn't the third-rate burglary that lost Nixon the Presidency; it was the cover-up.'

We aren't suggesting Tesco is covering anything up about Fresh & Easy. Nor are we naive enough to think or suggest any corporation should fully disclose its operational difficulties (first it has to know them though) completely if it chooses not to.

What we are suggesting though is two-fold: First, as we write this, Tesco's Fresh & Easy appears to have absolutely no strategy for dealing with the mostly negative stories that are appearing mostly in the business sections of U.S. and UK newspapers this week. As we have outlined above, there exists a strategy for doing so; one that should have been in place already.

Second, Fresh & Easy has not just an image problem, but a real retail format, operations, marketing and merchandising one as well. But these aren't end of the world problems. They're "fixable," especially by one of the world's most innovative and successful retailers, which Tesco is. However, to fix these problems, those in charge first have to discover them; and do so despite personal pride or hubris. The suggestions we offer are part of hanging that lantern on these problems, as well as thinking strategically when it comes to marketing and media relations.

The story, of course, is still developing. Stay tuned. By the way, with some fast-moving and nimble work, Fresh & Easy could still launch a campaign like we describe above before the week is out.

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NSFM Editor's Note: We think Fresh & Easy's Earth Day-themed resusable "bags for life" giveaway is a decent first step towrds the comprehensive program we outlined above in our April 2 piece--if it's followed up rapidly with more action.

Although the "freebie" Earth Day reusable carrier bags aren't the canvass type (or even the type we describe below which Fresh & Easy should sell in addition to the two types of reusable carrier bags it already sells), but rather the cheap, 20 cent bags--it's still something--and far better than no giveaway at all.

Further, the fact Fresh & Easy will replace these free "bags for life" (hence their name) as part of the promotion is fantastic. An excellent concept in our opinion. Why? It offers a good deal for consumers, as well as suggesting in a small way Fresh & Easy wants you to be our customer "for life." Lots of little things designed to create primary shoppers can add up to a "big thing"-- eventually gaining more primary shoppers.

[Note to Fresh & Easy: Supermarket chains all over the U.S.--and Wal-Mart and target too--are selling very attractive reusable carrier bags made out of a light cloth material for 99 cents or one dollar each. Check out Wal-Mart's current advertising circular, for example. There is a picture of its dollar reusable shopping bag in the promo flier

In terms of the type of plan and program we laid out for Fresh & Easy in our April 2 piece, there's much more for the retailer to do to make it an overall comprehensive plan. Good starts become better with the next step.

By the way, we aren't suggesting causality between our April 2, 2008 piece and tonight's (April 8) press release from Tesco's Fresh & Easy. We were trained in the scientific method far to well to think that "correlation equals causality."

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Mariah James said...

I love the neighborhood market atmosphere and was impressed with the content of your blog. It has natural roots, something I advocate as I practice as a green marketing pr practitioner. Check it out at http://www.pilmerpr.com/green_public_relations.html

Mariah James said...

I love the neighborhood market atmosphere and was impressed with the content of your blog. It has natural roots, something I advocate as I practice as a green marketing pr practitioner. Check it out at http://www.pilmerpr.com/green_public_relations.html

gShawn said...

Do some online research and see the complaints from employees of Fresh and Easy. When the horror stories coming out of their prison-like Riverside Kitchen facility go public, take cover; it will kill their reputation in California!