It’s unusual in today’s economic climate for an expanding retailer to generate a lot of buzz. But Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is a major exception. The grocery chain, owned by UK-based grocery giant Tesco PLC, has taken western states by storm, opening about 60 stores in four months in Arizona, California and Nevada. Now the company is in the midst of a three-month breather and is temporarily stopping its expansion. The move prompted many, including some here , to voice speculation, with some wondering if the slowdown was tied to the economy. No, says Scott Whitney, real estate director for the chain, which operates 10,000-sf units that stress low price and convenience. Whitney recently spoke with about Fresh & Easy’s expansion strategy. What do you expect to accomplish during your store-opening breather?

Whitney: One of the things that we decided to do very early on before we opened our first store was to open 50 to 60 locations. This breather has been planned from day one before we even had a store opened. There has been a lot of attention out there that this was a red flag and we were stopping to reevaluate. That’s not the case. The reason we did it when we made the decision to come to the US, we spent a lot of time researching on the front end so that we could come up with a concept that was custom-built for the US market. In doing that, all of the information and research that has been done was done in a way that was customer driven. This breather was built in so that we could take that three-month window to reevaluate and through exit surveys we’ve been doing since day one figure out what customers like and what they would like to see different. That’s what this window has been built in for.

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