SPRING VALLEY, Calif. — Since the Fresh & Easy grocery chain was founded five years ago, it has opened 150 stores in California and positioned itself as a hip, socially responsible company.
A cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, the company brags that its house brands have no artificial colors or trans fats, that two-thirds of its produce is grown locally and that its main distribution center is powered by a $13 million solar installation.
But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees work part-time, with its stores changing many of their workers’ schedules week to week.
At its store here, just east of San Diego, Shannon Hardin oversees seven self-checkout stations, usually by herself. Typically working shifts of five or six hours, she hops between stations — bagging groceries, approving alcohol purchases, explaining the checkout system to shoppers and urging customers to join the retailer’s loyalty program, all while watching for shoplifters.
“I like it. I’m a people person,” said Ms. Hardin, 50, who used to work as an office assistant at a construction company until times went bad.
From a hillock in the San Joaquin Valley, Berne Evans III recently surveyed a citrus grove that stretches as far as the eye can see. “It’s the largest clementine planting in the world,” he said, smiling.
The groves make Mr. Evans the king of the Cuties, a brand of seedless, sweet and easy-to-peel mandarin that is storming the nation’s fruit aisles and changing eating habits that span generations. The navel orange, after reigning supreme for decades, has a challenger.
The rise of Cuties heralds the arrival of big-money marketing in a tradition-steeped corner of American industry. Techniques once reserved for promoting consumer products have now made their way into the produce section. Just as people have long asked for a “Kleenex” instead of a tissue, they are starting to ask for “Cuties” when they mean mandarins.
“I can’t think of any other produce that has done this,” says John Ball of San Diego branding firm MiresBall. It’s “a name that is the thing.”
Cuties reflect a defining reality of the American consumer experience: Convenience sells. It’s a simple idea, applied in an unexpected place in the case of Cuties. Few people may have looked at the traditional orange and considered it a candidate for the classic American “new and improved” treatment.
But part of the Cuties marketing message trumpets the fact that children find it easier to peel. “We are a very impatient nation,” says Jerry Della Femina, of Della Femina Advertising in New York. “We have always led the way on, ‘Isn’t this the easiest way to do it?'”
Strange Random Name Quote:
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