Business

Fresh & Easy begins closing down operations

Fresh & Easy has just two stores remaining in the central San Joaquin Valley –in Lemoore and Reedley. The company said Wednesday that it was closing its business – but holding out hope for a buyer.
Fresh & Easy has just two stores remaining in the central San Joaquin Valley –in Lemoore and Reedley. The company said Wednesday that it was closing its business – but holding out hope for a buyer. Fresno Bee file

Fresh & Easy, the grocery chain that has struggled for years in California, said Wednesday that it was closing its business – but holding out hope for a buyer.

Brendan Wonnacott, spokesman for the El Segundo-based chain, said Fresh & Easy was starting “the process for an organized wind-down.”

The retailer has two stores – in Reedley and Lemoore – left in the central San Joaquin Valley. The last three Fresh & Easy stores in Fresno and Clovis closed in March.

Fresh & Easy doesn’t have enough cash and couldn’t obtain financing to continue operating the business, Wonnacott said. That’s despite progress made over the last two years that has moved the company “closer to break even.”

The company operates 97 stores in California, Nevada and Arizona.

Stores are being liquidated and closed over the next few weeks, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who is not authorized to speak publicly. Layoffs are starting in the corporate office next week, the person said. State-mandated “WARN Act” layoff notices have gone out to about 3,000 employees.

It’s not clear when the Reedley and Lemoore stores will close if the company doesn’t find a buyer.

An employee at the Lemoore store declined to give a closing date, and no one could be reached to comment at the Reedley store.

Fresh & Easy has flailed since making its debut in 2007. The chain was British supermarket giant Tesco’s first venture into the United States. It billed the new company as a European version of the Trader Joe’s chain, offering an assortment of groceries with an emphasis on fresh products, including ready-made meals to go.

The chain ultimately grew to 200 locations, but was always unprofitable. In 2013, Fresh & Easy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was sold to grocery billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos.

Under Burkle, the chain tried to find new ways to attract shoppers. Now, Fresh & Easy is hoping for a new owner willing to give it another go.

“We continue to work to sell all or part of the business,” Wonnacott said.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.

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