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The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that a meeting in Santa Monica hosted by Tesco with US and British institutional investors was disrupted by protests by about 100 activists from area community groups. The meeting was scheduled to update the financial types on Tesco’s plans for its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chain of supermarkets, now being rolled out in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.

According to the Times, “The Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores, which comprises 25 community groups, was protesting Fresh & Easy's refusal to meet to discuss a proposed ‘community benefits agreement.’ It sought to bind the food retailer to certain wage levels, affordable health benefits and greenhouse gas reduction.

“The coalition also has questioned Fresh & Easy's commitment to open stores in under served and low-income neighborhoods.”

Tesco’s workforce at the moment is non-union, and the retailer has said that it will be up to the employees to decide if they want outside representation…while clearly hoping that its wages and benefits will be enough to persuade workers not to organize. At the same time, Tesco has said that it plans to open stores in all sorts of neighborhoods – including low-income Compton, where a store currently is being built – and it has made much of its community and environmental commitments, while refusing to meet with the activist groups.

KC's View:
No reason at this point to think that Tesco isn’t sincere about its commitments…so my inclination is to agree with the strategy of not engaging with the activists. While ignoring them can be risky from a public relations perspective, Tesco must feel that its format and approach are strong enough to carry it past such protests. Besides, if Tesco were to create even the illusion that it wanted or needed their approval, it could be a long and slippery slope.