The store in question was Fresh and Easy - not just a supermarket but a British-based supermarket, owned by none other than Tesco. Be still my beating heart. We waited a couple of days to try it out, so we didn't seem too American and keen, and here we are marveling at the 'British Foods' section. All 10 square feet of it.
|Wow! Branston Pickle, and only four blocks from our house!|
I was so excited. I love my old mainstay, Trader Joes, but they don't have the staples that you end up needing, like shampoo, tin foil, goldfish and laundry detergent. Fresh and Easy had the name brand stuff, but also, that English mainstay 'ready meals'. American pre-made meals tend to come in two varieties 'Hungryman' and 'diet', and both varieties are processed within an inch of their lives. Fresh and Easy comes with main meals, side dishes, salads etc, all pre-made but with minimal processing and very little rubbish added. I could see a future of decent meals of an evening. Variety. Nutrition. It was going to be fabulous.
Unfortunately Fresh and Easy mimics the British supermarket model in one other critical way - and that's the self service checkout. And that, well, that's causing a bit of a problem over here. The first time we went there were Fresh and Easy helpers everywhere, eager to educate people on the finer points of scanning their own groceries. I was game for the challenge, no technology can defeat me, and worked my way through scanning my four British food items. Two weeks later, and I'm there on a Friday afternoon with two exhausted children and an entire week's shop, queues a mile long and one incredibly harried looking checkout helper.
It was an unmitigated disaster. Every four items the belt would freeze as one or both of my girls would lean on the conveyor, activating the weight sensor and causing the machine to freak out that my scanned greek yogurt was actually 4lbs heavier than predicted and thus there was a *foreign object unscanned* so the lady would have to come and unfreeze the scanner, while simultaneously trying to help every single other customer having the same issue. Then the sheer volume of groceries started backing up, on to the conveyor, causing yet more error messages, then it wouldn't accept the sku code of my baked potatoes, then Lucy touched the sensor again and I'm glaring at her like 'so help me if you put a finger out of place again I will snap you like a twig', while the increasingly frazzled assistant is both bagging, re-setting the sensor and wishing she'd had the qualifications for a job at H&M instead. To cut the glacial atmosphere I joked "wow, it's not exactly family friendly this system is it?" as Lucy dumps a pile of bananas on the conveyor without scanning them first - oh the horror!!! and the computer beeps frantically. And then the assistant glares at me and says "they brought it over from the UK to take away our hours" and I'm thinking "OK then! Trader Joes it is! They have stickers!"
|This is how mad the Fresh and Easy clerk was at me - milk, olive oil and a ten pack of capri suns in one flimsy plastic bag. Do you think she was trying to tell me to bag my own groceries?|
I will be back, for my clotted cream and Branston Pickle, but only when I'm buying a maximum of two items and only when I'm child free.
To be honest this is probably the way of the future, but to launch full throttle in to self-scanning (as your only option) in an American grocery culture where customers are not even bagging their own stuff is maybe too much of a great leap forward. This is still a customer service heavy culture. Self-scanning works for one item by not for a family-sized shop.
Still, the Thai green curry was very tasty though, and that bread for 98c wasn't bad either....