British supermarket giant Tesco said it is considering selling its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores and will probably leave the United States altogether.
The sprawling retailer, which owns more than 6,000 stores worldwide, has already received inquiries from companies interested in acquiring all or part of Fresh & Easy, Tesco said Wednesday in a statement.
Fresh & Easy's chief executive, Tim Mason, is also leaving after three decades at Tesco, the company said.
The Fresh & Easy chain launched in 2007 with much fanfare and high ambitions of creating a network of hundreds of smaller-format stores on the West Coast.
But the supermarkets never proved profitable. In October, Tesco announced plans to cut back on investing in the chain after closing 12 stores earlier in the year. There are still nearly 200 locations open in California, Arizona and Nevada.
Despite those efforts to slash costs, "it is now clear that Fresh & Easy will not deliver acceptable shareholder returns on an appropriate time frame in its current form," Tesco said.
Philip Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, said "all options are under consideration."
"Whilst the business has many positives, its journey to scale and acceptable returns will take too long relative to other opportunities," he said in a statement.
In a conference call on Wednesday, Clarke said it was "likely" that Tesco's "presence in America will come to an end."
This decision comes at a sensitive time for Tesco, which has been trying to turn around a decline in profit at home in Britain and fighting off criticisms that it has put too much money into rapid -- and so far unprofitable -- expansion in some areas overseas.
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