New Law Bans Self-Service Checkout for Alcohol

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sunday that bans the sale of alcohol at self-service checkouts — a move that directly impacts Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market as it continues its expansion in San Francisco, including one store planned for the Mission District.

The bill, AB 183, introduced by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, takes effect Jan. 1, 2012. It impacts Fresh & Easy in particular because the market relies solely on self-service checkout systems at its stores. The new law will require grocers to have at least one human-run checkout for all alcohol sales.

Similar bills were vetoed in 2008 and 2010 by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Despite the setback, Fresh & Easy is determined to continue its growth in California, said Brendan Wonnacott, a Fresh & Easy spokesman. Asked how this would affect the company’s new stores, Wonnacott said they are weighing the options.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions right now,” he said. “We’re going to have to examine all of our options going forward.”

Fresh & Easy, a subsidiary of England-based Tesco Corporation, the third largest retailer in the world, sees this measure and one introduced at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as blatant attempts to single out the company for its business practices.

Fresh & Easy uses self-service checkouts as a cost-saving move that allows it to compete with other grocers, Wonnacott said last week. It is the only grocer in California to rely entirely on self-service.

Fresh & Easy, which has already opened stores in the Outer Richmond and Bayview, plans to open one in Potrero Hill and one in the Mission, at 1245 South Van Ness Ave., formerly the site of DeLano’s IGA market.

Fresh & Easy plans to move into the old DeLano’s Market on South Van Ness. Photo by John C. Osborn.

Several weeks ago, District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar introduced his own legislation that would ban alcohol sales at new stores that use self-service checkouts; Mar’s proposed law is less stringent than Ma’s. The ordinance was co-sponsored by supervisors David Chiu and John Avalos.

It is meant to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors and those who are inebriated, as required by law, Linshao Chin, a legislative aide to Mar, wrote last week.

Minors and others who want to skip the safeguards in place at self-service checkouts can find information online on how to cheat the system, Chin wrote. “Stores should not be making it easier for either of these groups to get alcohol.”

Community and labor groups have expressed concerns about Fresh & Easy’s labor policies — mainly the use of automated machines rather than human beings to facilitate purchases.

The Mission-based People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, known as PODER, is concerned by the low wages paid by Fresh & Easy, whose workers are not unionized.

“We’re concerned…that will become the new norm” for grocers in the Mission, said Oscar Grande of PODER. “That’s not the road we want to go down.”

Two other major grocers in the Mission, Safeway and FoodCo, are unionized. Rainbow Market is a cooperative.

Fresh & Easy generally hires 25 to 30 workers who work a minimum of 20 hours a week, Wonnacott said, with the entry-level wage $10 an hour — 30 cents more than the city’s minimum wage. The company also offers health care, a 401k and quarterly bonuses.

Wonnacott said that the company has no position on unionization; it’s up to the workers to decide, through a vote authorized by the National Labor Relations Board.

Grande said his organization will be going door-to-door to educate Missionites about the market and gather a list of concerns to bring to the market.

“Be a good corporate citizen is what the community is saying,” he said, adding that if the market isn’t willing to listen, then “maybe you’re not a good fit for the neighborhood.”

14 Comments

  1. Strike another blow for freedom. If I want to use self-serve to check out my own liquor purchase, who the heck are politicians to try to stop me. So much for freedom and individual rights. Next, they’ll go after medical marijuana. Oooops, too late.

  2. SimonSays

    This is so ass-backwards! Just because F&E comes up with a more efficient way of selling groceries, the competitors and their unions go after them by lobbying for this kind of shit. Lame.

  3. SimonSays

    You can let Fiona Ma know how you feel about this crap: Fiona.Ma@asm.ca.gov

  4. I’d like to see a market survive in that building – the neighborhood needs one that’s affordable. (I’m glad to hear it’s not a Whole Foods going in.) It seems perfectly reasonable to not sell liquor, if the store has no way to enforce the law which prohibits liquor sales to minors.

    • switzerland

      /the inebriated

    • SimonSays

      Really? You don’t think its possible to simply have the machine call an attendant when alcohol is being purchased? This can easily be remedied with f’ing government intervention.

      • tonks

        the machines DO tell us when someone is purchasing alcohol. we go through an 8 hour training covering extensively the issues this law claims it’s covering. this is union trying to force their hand, pure and simple.

  5. sfmissionman

    I live very near the former Delano’s/IGA/Cala. So I’ve been interested in F&E. I saw one in Thousand Oaks and checked it out. It’s true that all the checkout is self service, but when I tried to check out a bottle of wine, the machine balked and a young lady came over to check my age. I.e., F&E ALREADY must check IDs, like everyone else who sells alcohol. This is not an alcohol issue. It’s a unionization issue. Any talk about kids and drunks is just junk talk. And anyone who views the Mission “community” as being better served by having NO full service supermarket has taken a very narrow, ideologically-driven point of view, probably not widely shared by most Mission residents.

    • EO

      PODER needs to butt out. How come no one ever protests when another check chashing place or dollar store opens up?

  6. wc1

    This is so stupid. At the Tesco self serve checkouts in the UK, when you scan alcohol, it freezes the checkout until an attendant comes over and checks ID and enters a code. They could have done the same thing here.

    F&E is going into underserved markets, why make it harder for them?

    • sfmissionman

      F&E DOES do the “same thing here.” Alcohol is a non-issue with F&E. Check out the motives of “activists” or “groups” opposed to a new full service supermarket on S. Van Ness. Is this yet another anti-gentrification fight?

    • Bridget

      How exactly is the Mission an “underserved market”? The Latino produce markets can’t be beat in terms of variety, quality and price, and there are fish shops, butcher shops, bakeries galore. In many instances, grocery chains are using the idea of food deserts and underserved areas as a way to gain support; it’s important to critically consider whether a neighborhood is actually underserved and if a large chain is really the best solution or if a community-rooted approach might create better jobs and provide a better solution to the neighborhood’s needs.

      • sfmissionman

        Given the investment F&E are – I hope – planning to make, I have to imagine that they have “critically considered” whether they will “provide a better solution to the neighborhood’s needs” Are we talking about groceries, or some other kind of “needs.”

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