Baps. Spotted Dick. Bubble 'n' Squeak. A nice fry-up.

One doesn't normally associate good food with Britain, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson notwithstanding. That's why this latest British invasion is such a delicious shock.

Fresh & Easy, the new grocery chain opening stores all over Southern California, Nevada and Arizona, is an all-out attempt by British giant Tesco to conquer the American shopper, and by default, their tastebuds. Judging from the way people are buzzing about the stores, it might just be onto something.
Moms started talking about the new Fresh & Easy that opened in my Southern California neck of the woods soon after it opened. In hushed and reverent tones they described a place with better produce and cheaper prices than Trader Joe's, more variety than Ralph's or Vons, and less crowded than any of them, although this last bit is certain to change soon.

Quick, convenient and fresh. Those were the three ideas Tesco had in mind when it designed its new-style markets and began introducing them to the American food shopper. Just 10,000 square feet, the markets are about the size of a Walgreens, and open and airy. There are already 55 such Fresh & Easy's in the west, with plans for up to 250 by next years. Many of the markets targeted areas under-served by other supermarkets, offering fresh quality groceries at fantastic prices. The local fanfare has been great.

Critics are watching skeptically, but the people are convinced, especially as food prices skyrocket. As always, it's the details that are impressive. Not only is there a plenitude of fresh produce and ready-to-eat meals, You can still buy a six-pack of Coke. You can get your organic, AND your processed junk food. There are special parking spots for parents with small children. There are Hybrid spaces. There's a dispenser with anti-bac wipes right next to the shopping carts. There are $5 dollar off coupons, for the asking!

Word-of-mouth advertising is spreading fast. My neighbor made a special point of dropping by to exclaim about the place, prompting me to check it out for myself.

The first thing I saw was a refill package of turkey slices for $2. How was that possible, when everywhere else this item sold for nearly $4? There was a whole row of produce, fresh cuts of meat, fish ready to cook. Fresh bread, fresh juices (and on another aisle, brand-name juices, in case I couldn't live without my OceanSpray cranberry juice cocktail). Would they have pet food? They did indeed. And sundries. And frozen foods. And on and on. I filled my basket in a daze. The self-check-out process took a bit of getting used to, but there was a very helpful worker bagging up my items who was eager to help me out in case I needed it.

The final result: Four bags of groceries for $40. That includes the discount I got when I asked, and got, my $5 off coupon. I could hardly believe it.

Can we credit the Brits for building a better mousetrap? Stay tuned. It's looking promising. And the way things are going, there could be a Fresh & Easy in your area before the year's out.

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