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Fresh & Easy, the U.S. division of England's retail giant Tesco, has agreed to purchase the U.S. operations of both its major produce and meat suppliers. The chain's communications director, Brendan Wonnacott, told The Produce News June 23 that the deal would be completed this summer.

Wild Rockets Food, the produce supplier, was formed by Tesco's main U.K. produce supplier four years ago at the same time that Fresh & Easy came into the U.S. marketplace. Although Fresh & Easy buys from other produce suppliers and will continue to do so, according to Mr. Wonnacott, Wild Rocket's operations will be taken in-house, and in fact that name will no longer exist.

Wild Rocket provided Fresh & Easy with much of its whole produce as well as fresh-squeezed juices, bagged salads, fresh dips and salsa, and some other value-added items.

Both Wild Rocket and the meat supplier, 2 Sisters Foods, are located in close proximity to Fresh & Easy's warehouse in Riverside, CA. Mr. Wonnacott said that the purchases give the chain the opportunity to bring these two important suppliers "into our Riverside campus, figuratively if not literally, as they are both located very close to us."

Mr. Wonnacott said that Fresh & Easy now has 159 stores in California, Arizona and Nevada, "and we are opening new stores at the rate of one per week." He said that Southern California is still home to the bulk of the stores, but recently the chain entered a new California market when it opened its first outlet in Fresno, which is in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley.

"We continue to look for opportunities and for good locations, including the opportunity to expand into Northern California," he concluded.