Simon English: New boss Clarke should pull the plug on Tesco's costly American adventure

Outlook: There was always a coals-to-Newcastle, fish-to-Iceland feel about Tesco's plan to crack the US supermarket industry. Just on the bare face of it, even if you'd never visited America, you might quickly reach the view, based on what you've read and seen, that these folk are not short of food.

Tesco's approach seemed cocky, hubristic, right from the start. They had done research, they said. There were huge gaps in the market. Tesco was going to show those Yanks how to run a proper food business. They'll thank us for it.

If they'd only but asked. On the basis of my own, reasonably rigorous research, I could have told them this: there is loads of food in America and nearly all of it is better than what you can get in Tesco.

If that sounds flippant, it's a semi-serious point. Walk into any local deli anywhere in America and order a sandwich. It'll be better than the UK equivalent. Much.

Pick any US restaurant you like outside of New York (let's try to be fair) and compare it to any UK restaurant outside London. The American one is better.

Supermarkets in America are better. The service you get is better. So is the food.

Even Kentucky Fried Chicken is better. You can get the chicken grilled and nicely wrapped to take on a picnic. It's way better.

The state of Tesco's American adventure rather got lost in last week's profit warning, and in the inevitable billions-wiped-off stories that seemingly must accompany any fall in a share price.

It turns out that Tesco is shutting another 12 stores in California, Nevada and Arizona on top of the 13 closed by the company in 2010 as it seeks to stem losses.

So far, Britain's biggest supermarket is reckoned to have chucked about £700m down the trash can seeking to establish Fresh & Easy – that's real money, even for Tesco.

It's increasingly tempting to conclude that Sir Terry Leahy ended his 14-year reign at the company precisely because he could see that his US plan wasn't going to work out, and figured that he'd rather see someone else take the blame.

It seems that those long stretches of food desert – areas without a proper supermarket – that Tesco had identified as fertile ground were without major food suppliers for good reason. No one lives there. At least, no one with any money.

Again, this also looks like the sort of information that could have been gleaned from a quick trip down the highway (the roads are also better, by the way).

Tesco doubtless employed expensive consultants before it embarked on its scheme, but if they did any actual research, they seemed to have missed some fairly basic points.

Will it give up? The temptation for the new chief executive, Philip Clarke, to do so must be strong. If he scraps the American arm quickly, he can let Sir Terry take the heat. Leave it much longer and he owns the problem.

With the company admitting it has lately lost its way in the UK and under pressure from City investors to put things right sharpish, cutting his US losses would at least leave him one less thing to worry about.

Tesco tries to be upbeat on the issue, insisting it is getting the American stores right.

It seems unlikely that Mr Clarke is entirely convinced that Tesco can crack it.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk