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Fresh & Easy Grows 'Farm to Store in 24' Program

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American consumers might not be willing to get their hands dirty growing their own fruits and veggies, but they increasingly want the details on where their food is coming from. That's exactly the goal of a new program, dubbed "Farm to Store in 24," launched by California-based Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets this summer.

Some of the biggest retailers in the country like Walmart and Safeway are touting locally grown food, while Whole Foods and Henry's Farmers Markets have made it a key selling point to give consumers more information about their food's origin and freshness. Fresh & Easy has gone another step with its "Farm to Store in 24" program, which launched as a test and will expand in the fall, following brisk sales and positive feedback.

The program, aimed at shortening the time between the grower and the consumer, is a "natural progression" for Fresh & Easy, said rep Brendan Wonnacott. The Tesco-owned small-format markets—which opened three years ago in the U.S.—get select seasonal fruits and vegetables on shelf within 24 hours of harvest. Labels identify the products as the freshest of the fresh, with the farm and its location also noted.

"It's a brilliant concept," said Phil Lempert, food trends editor on NBC's The Today Show, and founder of SupermarketGuru.com. "And it's not just a marketing hook. The chain delivers on the promise."

Lempert said he doesn't know of another retailer that's promoting a comparable quick turnaround between local growers and store customers.

"Farm to Store in 24" started with strawberries and grapes over the past few months. The program will expand to include stone fruit in the near future and will change its offerings with the seasons. It's intended to be a permanent fixture at the chain, though availability will depend on any number of factors, including weather and traffic.

Consumers don't pay more for the produce, which, Wonnacott said, lands more quickly on shelves because of increased coordination with farmers in close proximity to Fresh & Easy's 160 California, Nevada and Arizona locations.

"It takes quite a bit of work, but it's what customers are looking for," Wonnacott said. "Local is important across the board for us, but being based in California gives us such a wealth of opportunity to source locally in produce. We certainly look to expand ['Farm to Store']."